Suppose that tomorrow when you went to purchase your morning coffee, the government mandated you buy from the closest Starbucks to your home. When you enter that Starbucks, you notice the line is abnormally large and filled with all your neighbors. When you taste your coffee, it’s the vilest sludge you have ever put your lips on. You attempt to complain to the staff, but your complaints fall on deaf ears. You ask for an explanation and the staff tells you the product will improve if you can convince your local congressman to increase funding. If that fails, they say, encourage the rest of the people in the store to donate more of their hard-earned money.

Angela Cesere

When you ask for your money back so you can take your business elsewhere, the Starbucks staff informs you that your taxes paid for the coffee and you cannot receive a refund. Like any good consumer, you leave disgusted.

Vowing never to drink that coffee again, you travel to the closest Dunkin Donuts – which is not under government control. Not only do you find the coffee far superior to that served at Starbucks, but the doughnuts are fantastic and the service is efficient.

When you reach the cashier, she informs you that unlike Starbucks, your taxes do not pay for Dunkin Donuts’s products. To purchase the fine products at Dunkin Donuts, you have to pay more than you are comfortable paying. In addition, your taxes will continue to subsidize Starbucks regardless of where you prefer to get your coffee. Now you must decide between consuming Dunkin Donuts while subsidizing Starbucks or learning to tolerate the sludge that Starbucks serves.

While the aforementioned situation seems far-fetched, it’s very analogous to our public education system. Government has a monopoly on education in this country and we allowed for its creation. We stood idly by as government created its own supply by mandating children between six and 18 attend school. We complain bitterly about the failing product our youth must consume, and the only solutions that politicians and educators agree on are the need for more money and more teachers.

If more funding per pupil and smaller classroom sizes were truly cures for the ills of our education system, why does Washington D.C. continue to rank near the bottom in student performance? According to the District of Columbia Fiscal Policy Institute, D.C. public schools spend nearly $14,000 per student and George Mason University Prof. Walter Williams notes the average student to teacher ratio is 15:1 – the lowest in the nation. Yet Washington DC public school students consistently perform near the bottom in reading and math proficiency on standardized tests.

Attempts to break the government monopoly by reducing demand for public education are doomed. Current funding policies mandate parents that choose to enroll their children in a private school or home school must fund the public education system anyway. Those politicians brave enough to support a publicly funded voucher program – so parents can afford to educate their children privately – are met with hostility from politically powerful teacher unions and public-school boards.

For those of you who like the public education system, have you wondered why it’s funded through impersonal methods of tax collection? If funding public education relied upon citizens dropping off a check every month in the local principal’s office, citizens would be more likely to demand a better product from the principal during the visit. This exposure of monopoly management to consumers can only hurt the monopoly. Monopolies have no incentive to see consumers create a public demand for a better product because someone just might rise up and heed the calls.

The brutal truth is that if the Securities and Exchange Commission reviewed education as a sector of our economy, it would declare the government’s monopoly illegal. It would force educators to adopt more efficient and effective ways of educating our children. The SEC would encourage competition and seek market correction. Government and teacher unions would lose the political muscle they hold so dear and we might see some real reforms in the American education system.

Remember, the power for reform ultimately lies with the people. It’s time America woke up and smelled the coffee.

Stiglich can be reached at jcsgolf@umich.edu.

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