“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Broken Public School Systems

A Wall Street Journal editorial in yesterday's edition noted some surprising and disappointing statistics regarding school enrollments and teachers.

In New York state, over the period from 2000 to 2009, public school enrollment fell by 121,000 pupils, but the number of teachers increased by 15,000. In New York City, 11,000 education system employees were added while the student population decreased by 63,000.

In other states, similar discontinuities occurred. Virginia's number of teachers increased by 21% in concert with a 5% enrollment increase, while in Florida, the same rates were, respectively, 20% and 6%. For North Carolina, they were 22% more teachers for a 9% rise in enrollment.

In my own state of New Jersey, educational jobs have increased by 14% in the past decade to serve an enrollment of 3% more students.

These are horrifying numbers. Any business that operated like these states' educational systems would be out of business by now. It's negative productivity, at speed.

I had lunch with an old friend and business colleague/partner yesterday. Among the many topics we discussed was my recent understanding of Milton Friedman's concept of the negative income tax. Friedman, as a disciple of Von Hayek, realized, implicitly, the loss of freedom and general inefficiencies created by government programs which provide services, rather than vouchers, credits, and other mechanisms by which services may be bought by consumers.

Imagine, in this vein, if states and local school boards collected tax revenues to be paid to private contractors who provided teachers and schooling services?

Can you possibly imagine any such schools hiring teachers at a faster rate than students increased in their systems?

Of course not.

Maybe it's too late to move to such a model, but with American primary education apparently in such appalling shape, how much worse could we do? One benefit of contracting services out, rather than providing them by the state via unionized employees, is that new vendors can replace current ones whose prices are too high, or quality too low.

Instead, now, we get both low quality and high prices from our state-provided public school systems in too many of these United States of America.

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