A good friend and dedicated educator once emailed me when I was in the Missouri House voicing her concerns about education funding and priorities. Her frustration reflected many similar conversations I have had with other voters in the past. Sadly, education funding and education policy increasingly are about catering to special interests, not to what is in the best interest of our children. It is used as a political football in the quest to win elections, and such a profile is not conducive to good education policy but rather to favoritism and empty promises.
God gave children to parents, not to governments. We must restore and protect the quality of education. Parents must demand it; our children deserve no less. Without meaningful reforms, children will suffer in the short-term and society will suffer for decades. Parents must be more involved, which means giving them choices in the education of their children.
A Republic cannot survive without a learned population, yet Americans increasingly seem less and less learned. In particular, we must not ignore Missouri’s high dropout rate and unsatisfactory test scores. According toMissouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) statistics, the state’s four-year graduation rate in 2011 was only 79.8 percent. That means we are failing slightly more than 20 percent of our students, and that is a tragedy for the future of our state.
For instance, according to a study released in 2011 by the not-for-profit Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization, high school dropouts are costing Missouri hundreds of millions of dollars in lost earnings and spending every year.
Education and the Economy, tracks the economic potential of bolstering graduation rates. According to the report, an estimated 20,000 students dropped out of Missouri’s class of 2010. The lost lifetime earnings inMissouri for that class of dropouts alone total nearly $5.2 billion. If we could just cut that figure in half, those 10,000 graduates would spend an additional $80 million and invest an additional $26 million during an average year, and generate as much as $7.9 million in additional state tax revenue.
My vision for Missouri is that education must be at least a top priority, if not our No. 1 priority! We need to focus on effectiveness, and we need to champion truth and character that will produce exceptional success in life.
The status quo is not acceptable, yet history and independent study confirm that spending more and more money is not the solution. For example, education spending comprises 30 percent of Missouri’s FY-2012 budget, more than any other single category, and 9 percent more than healthcare spending, which is the second largest category. Yet, our education outcomes are not commensurate with our education spending.
So what is the solution? It is competition. We need to return control of our education system to parents, grandparents and local school boards who know best the needs of their children and how best to spend education dollars. We restore opportunity to education by providing parents with choices. Choices that include a variety of solutions depending on the area and the need.
Vouchers are one way of providing the power of competition to state-run schools, but they are not the only way. Nevertheless, vouchers have worked where used, and all schools, both government and private, improved scores — some significantly. In addition, dropout rates always declined when competition was introduced via vouchers.
However, big-government advocates fear competition and individual freedom. They argue that the use of vouchers will enslave private and parochial schools by “accepting government money and the strings that go with it.” They don’t trust private and Christian schools to read the law and make their own decisions about the risks and benefits. Yet, I believe it is a question of personal liberty, of choice. Why should big-government politicians decide whether or not parents and school administrators can make that decision? Non-government schools are capable of choosing whether or not they will accept vouchers; that is freedom.
Freedom is about choice. The absence of choice is slavery — a form of imprisonment. It is freedom, not slavery, that produces opportunity, and it is opportunity that produces the prosperity and exceptionalism of theUnited States. In education, we have removed all of that choice. We have taken the role of parents away, and then we ask why parents aren’t more involved. None of us is very involved in those things in which we have no choice. We have other things that we can do, other ways we can use our time, other areas where we can make a difference. If you cannot make a difference, then why should you invest your time in that arena?
No one individual has the perfect answer to improving education, but there are principles of learning that can be used to formulate new ideas and to test ideas — both new and old. There is a small paperback book that I have recommended before by Joseph L. Bast and Herbert J. Walberg, Ph.D., Let’s Put Parents Back In Charge, which analyzes and answers education questions better than I can. The book includes reports from several states that are seeing measurable improvements without increasing the budget.
A good example of such successful education reform is Florida. Their improvement over the last decade, although widely ignored by the education elite, has been impressive and has included accountability, transparency and parental choice. Florida went from the bottom of national rankings in education to the top.
What Louisiana has done inNew Orleanssince Hurricane Katrina wiped out one of the nation’s worst school systems also is remarkable. When faced with rebuilding a system that mirrored the failed status quo of the past, or embracing a new model that includes competition and charter schools, they chose the latter, and the results are astounding. Children are staying in school and learning at higher levels, and there are waiting lists of students trying to get into the best schools.
I am grateful for passionate educators. The only group in America more desperate for effective education reform than parents is teachers. There are also those in the Missouri legislature who are passionate to educateMissouri’s youth, and I am anxious to rejoin them. Our children are worth the fight to restore truth to education. I cannot settle for less regardless of the political or personal opposition or consequences. Let’s make education reform an important measure of legislative accountability. It is time to decide whether politics or principle is our goal — form or function.
My statewide goal is learned children, not a healthy bureaucracy or comfortable institution. I promise to work for exceptionalism. That is my goal, and I am committed to the battle. For the sake ofAmerica’s future I cannot shrink from it. I believe most Missourians are in the same fight and are on the same side.