2013 THIRD PLACE ESSAY

Education Monopolies: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $11,800

by Madeline Peltzer, Age 14
Submitting Teacher: Dawn Peltzer


Ancient Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius once asserted, "The foundation of every state is the education of its youth." The United States has long recognized the importance of this dictum. In the 1950s, America's public schools led the world in education. Unfortunately, the current system has not adapted to the 21st century as evidenced by our low test scores, high dropout rates, and mediocre international ranking. The government claims it needs more money to solve the problem, but results have been static at best. In my home state of Arizona, the solution is one that the free market understands well: competition.

Hundreds of years ago, children were taught at home, by religious schools, or in community-run schools. In the mid-19th century, in response to the industrial age, our government adopted the Prussian model of education that we still use today. At the time, it gave Americans a good education and equipped them to enter the workforce.

Today the opposite is true. The U.S. now ranks 30th in international math tests and 23rd in reading. Across the country, 1.2 million high school students drop out annually -- one every 26 seconds. Even among those who graduate, one-third require remedial courses in college for English, math, and science. Employers find the incoming workforce lacks the qualifications necessary to meet their needs.

Why did this happen? "Because K-12 education is a government monopoly. Monopolies don't improve," wrote John Stossel in his book No, They Can't. "While most every other service in life has gotten better, faster, and cheaper, education has remained stagnant, unchanged since we started measuring it in 1970."

Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison was featured on Stossel's television special, No, They Can't. He claims such government failures are because there is "not adequate investment in our public education system."

"That's what the big spenders always say, about most everything government does," said Stossel. "More money and government power will fix everything."

American taxpayers have already invested heavily in education -- two trillion dollars since 1965. "For the past 45 years," said Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, "we have seen federal, per-pupil expenditures triple, and yet reading achievement is flat, academic achievement gaps persist, American students still rank in the middle of the pack [compared to] their international peers, and graduation rates are the same today as they were in the 1970s." Burke suggested a business model that puts more power in the hands of parents and local leaders.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman agreed. He advocated for school choice for over 60 years. "Education spending," he said, "will be most effective if it relies on parental choice and private initiative -- the building blocks of success throughout our society."

In Arizona, homeschooling best embodies Friedman's objective of parental choice and private initiative. As a parent-funded, parent-directed form of education, families reject government money and the regulations that would inevitably come with it.

Home education is cost effective and produces excellent results. Parents spend an average of $600 per child a year; the state spends $11,800 per pupil. Homeschoolers consistently score 18-28 percentile points higher on standardized assessments than public school students. They also score significantly higher on college entrance tests and earn better grade point averages as college students. America's top schools actively recruit homeschoolers, and students complete their four-year degrees at a much higher rate than their counterparts. Homeschooling is the ultimate free market solution.

Arizona's 540 private schools cost less and generate better results than public schools. The Cato Institute found that Phoenix private schools cost an average of $6,770 compared to the state's $11,800. Private school students finish 18 points higher in standardized reading tests and 13 points higher in math than government school pupils. These schools have a 90 percent matriculation rate compared to 62 percent for public schools.

How did Arizona loosen its government education monopoly? Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief of Staff, famously declared, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is, it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." When the worst debt crisis in Arizona history hit in 2010, free-market legislators followed Emanuel's recommendation and began to make previously unfeasible reforms in education.

In an attempt to save the state money on education costs, Governor Jan Brewer enacted the groundbreaking Empowerment Scholarship Account, the most aggressive school-choice policy ever implemented. Today, the program transfers 90 percent of the state's cost-per-pupil money to the parents of children with special needs, students in failing public schools, children of active-duty military parents, and foster children -- a total of over 230,500 students.

Families can only use their ESA debit cards in the private market; they may not utilize public schools of any sort. As stewards, parents have the freedom to handpick the exact courses and learning opportunities that best suit their children's needs. They can select from private school, online education, tutoring, or choose to school at home. Furthermore, the state benefits by saving 10 percent per child on education. "No victory will be bigger than Arizona's," said the National Review's Carrie Lukas, "especially if other states follow its lead."

The inclusion of the free market has motivated public schools to become more creative in competing for students. Arizona public schools now offer online, distance learning, and homeschool enrichment programs and have created charter schools, open enrollment policies, and tuition tax credits.

Arizona's financial crisis broke its educational monopoly. More than any other time in history, parents can select from a robust menu of innovative options that produce better results at a lower cost. The free market challenges everyone, including public schools, to improve their performances.

Milton Friedman once said, "Competition is a way in which both public and private schools can be required to satisfy their customers . . . competition is better than monopoly." It's time for America to take monopoly off the table and never play with it again.