Competition: A Cost-Effective Cure for Troubled Schools

Published April 1, 2002

Decades of increased spending on our nation’s public school system have not produced the desired results of increased school quality and student achievement. Yet the common refrain heard from school administrators and teacher unions is that more money is needed if improvements are to be made.

The taxpaying public is hesitant to further increase spending on schools without some proof the system is capable of improving. That scenario is being played out at the federal, state, and local levels, as school spending comes under heightened scrutiny because of the recent economic downturn.

Lori Yaklin, executive director of the Michigan School Board Leaders Association, recently suggested an alternative solution: Competition.

Yaklin notes the parallel between the public school system, which holds a government-sponsored monopoly over K-12 education delivery, and Amtrak, which holds a government-sponsored monopoly over long-distance rail passenger service. Although a congressional advisory panel has recommended competition as the cure to Amtrak’s many woes–including its inability to maintain a profit–Amtrak fervently argues for increased government subsidies and protection.

“Government school funding requests make Amtrak’s requests look like pocket change,” says Yaklin in an opinion piece written for United Press International. Michigan, she notes by way of example, has increased spending on public schools at twice the rate of inflation since 1995, “yet the mantra is still ‘We can’t improve until you give us more money.'”

Yaklin believes that, like Amtrak, the public schools need a strong dose of competition to motivate their improvement. She points to the millions of dollars public school associations and unions spend “lobbying legislators to protect their turf” and arguing that granting parents the right to choose among different school providers would force an exodus of students from the public schools. “[This] argument itself is an indictment of government schools and their ability to keep customers that are not captives,” Yaklin states.

Recent studies by the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Manhattan Institute bolster Yaklin’s contention that competition would provide a cost-effective remedy for improving the U.S. education delivery system. (See accompanying articles, “Century-Old Voucher Programs Show Benefits of Choice” and “Rx for Better Education: More Choice.”)

For more information …

The full text of Lori Yaklin’s article, “Outside View: the Amtrak Option,” is available at the “In the News” section of the Web site of the Michigan School Board Leaders Association,