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School Choice in Douglas County   February 28th, 2011
Competition is good       

 
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Douglas County has become the epicenter of the debate on school choice in Colorado, and has received nationwide attention. It's amazing that competition is so controversial. You don't need to be an expert in education or be a school teacher to understand the underlying truth that competition and choice are good.

We have so many choices in life that we often take them for granted. HP or Toshiba? Facebook or MySpace? AT&T or Verizon? Ford or Toyota? Comcast or DirecTV? McDonald's or Burger King? Walmart or Target? American or United Airlines? Safeway or King Soopers? Conoco or Phillips? Pizza Hut or Domino's?

Choice is important. You can't have competition without choice. And competition is the most important factor in pushing efficiency, improvements, lower costs, and better service in a capitalistic society.

Companies constantly strive to increase their efficiency so they can offer better service at a lower price than their competitors and thereby increase their market share. When the number of competitors decreases, competition also decreases and the consumer usually ends up with diminished service at a higher price. In important industries, competition is so important that the government itself often intervenes to ensure that substantive competition and choice exists in the market.

The same principles of choice and competition that are vital in every other facet of our lives are equally vital when it comes to education, and education is a vital industry that demands competition.

The current voucher plan in Douglas County is still evolving, but it currently amounts to parents being able to choose to send their children to a private school with 75% of the per-pupil funding following the child and the school district keeping 25%. This means that the district will still receive money for a student it no longer needs to teach, so the amount of money available for the students still in the public system would actually go up on a per-pupil basis while simultaneously providing competition and more choices for parents.

Additionally, there's no reason why the plan would cause teachers to find themselves without jobs. We will still have the same number of students. So unless parents are planning on taking their children out of public schools to send them to private schools with larger class sizes, the same number of teachers will still be needed. If the public system finds itself losing students and teachers to competition, those teachers may apply for jobs at private schools that will be in a hiring mode to handle their increased enrollment.

This is exactly what happens in the private sector where there is competition. There is no guarantee that my employment is permanent even if I do a good job. It's entirely possible my employer could do a bad job competing in the market despite my best efforts. If that were to happen, I'd look for another employer that needs my skillset. There's no reason why teachers should be any different.

The question in Douglas County isn't whether or not our schools and teachers are good--our school system is good, and so are the vast majority of our teachers. The question is whether or not we want to be able to choose where our children go to school and whether we believe--like in every other aspect of life--competition will make a good service even better and reduce costs.

Competition works everywhere else in our society. Why not education?


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