Our Current Education System Is Doing Irreparable Harm to Our Economy and Our Future

Published January 29, 2017

The K-12 school system in America is broken. It has been for a long time.

Not the schools, per se, but the way we’ve historically set them up as geographically based monopolies where only those with the means to move or pay tuition are able to choose a different option than the one assigned to their neighborhood.

I wouldn’t run my company that way, and I believe families across America deserve better. Not only is our current system unfair, but it’s doing irreparable harm to our economy and our future.

When children, especially those in lower-income families, aren’t given the opportunity to receive an excellent education, they find themselves trapped in a failing school with no alternatives. Far too often, they drop out and watch the door to a brighter future slam shut. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, one in five American students still fails to earn a high school diploma on time. 

Unless our schools are able to graduate students at higher rates, nearly 12 million students are likely to drop out over the next decade, resulting in a loss to the nation of $1.5 trillion. We clearly need to shake up the system.

As Milton Friedman once said, “The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.” Fortunately, Dr. Friedman’s vision for educational choice is slowly becoming a reality, especially in the past decade.

Families in 30 states and the District of Columbia now have some ability to find a schooling option that works for their students instead of shoehorning those students into classrooms that weren’t necessarily designed with their specific needs in mind.

School choice programs are designed to level the playing field so that every child—not just the ones whose families can afford to move or pay tuition—has a chance at a quality education.

We can all agree that government has a vested interest in funding K-12 schooling, but it makes little sense that government should be the sole provider of K-12 schooling, especially when we routinely see non-public and charter schools doing more for students in the classroom with less public funding.

Recent research has shown that school vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs have actually saved taxpayers more than $3.5 billion since the early 1990s.

As additional educational choice programs come online across the United States, we see the positive effects that a thriving marketplace of ideas and options is having on all school types, including traditional public schools, which have started introducing new programs tailored for students with different learning styles and needs.

Choice hasn’t just been good for non-public, charter and other schooling types; it’s been good for the entire K-12 landscape—and most crucially the students within it.

That’s why it’s so important that we join together to celebrate National School Choice Week. While we are grateful for educational choice throughout the year, this week is set aside to specifically celebrate those families who have been empowered by choice. 

We know families don’t want their children wedged into a one-size-fits-all system, and as school choice becomes more widespread, we know there’s no going back. Once you’ve encouraged someone to push beyond the status quo—and made that goal a real possibility—you have awakened the true spirit of the American Dream.

Education is the pathway to success in our country, and it’s clear from decades of national and international results that we’re no longer leading the way. Far too many of our students fall behind or drop out because they’re not in a schooling environment that works for them.

As we push forward expanding the horizon of educational choice, we know there will be criticism from those who would rather preserve the status quo than dream big, innovate and do what’s right for families. But we can also look around this week and throughout the year and see thousands of examples where a student’s entire future has come down to finding the right school.

From online shopping to medical care, we encourage choice in every other aspect of our lives. It’s time to lift up and praise those same options within K-12 education.