Saturday, May 17, 2014

A 1972 Jeep Wagoneer Costing $66,000

The Vermont General Assembly passed a bill which would shut off local taxpayers' choice to determine how to run their local schools, by placing a moratorium on local citizens' ability to close their local school and open an independent school, like North Bennington did last year. 

My husband and I bought a Jeep Wagoneer in 1972. It had the latest technology. We had four wheel drive, but we had to get out of the car and adjust each front wheel hub in order to engage the four wheel drive. Its average fuel economy was 11.4 MPG. We had a radio, but no tape player, no CD player, no blue tooth. We had lap belts in the front seat. There were no air bags, no navigation systems, no automatic windows, no rear window defrost, not even any cup holders. The vehicle began rusting after a year, and the rust became so bad after four years the vehicle would not pass inspection. The car cost about $4000, or, in today's inflation adjusted price: $22,384. No consumer today would buy a vehicle with so few amenities and such a short life span for $22,000.

In 1972, the cost per pupil from kindergarten to grade 12 was $9,800, or approximately $55,000 in today's dollars. The cost per pupil today, for that same education, is $165,000, three times the inflation adjusted 1972 cost.

Yet the achievement scores for American students have remained virtually unchanged since 1972. It would be like requiring consumers to buy a Jeep Wagoneer, with 1972 technology, for three times the price: an inflation adjusted $66,000.

The educational product for our children has not improved in 40 years, yet we are asked to pay three times the price for the same results.

That is why Vermonters are rejecting school budgets in droves.

Vermonters are generous people, but they are also savvy consumers. They understand that they are not getting a good product for the price of their children¡¦s education.

The Education Establishment has made excuses for this trend. Instead of taking responsibility for the high cost and mediocre results of their educational product, they blame the customers. St. Johnsbury Superintendent Randy Bledsoe, in a stunning insult to the children she works for and their parents who pay her salary, told Vermont Public Radio that "a lot" of St. Johnsbury students are not "socialized"; therefore it takes more money to teach them.

Really? Let's look back at 1972. We had just ended the Vietnam War. We were at the end of a turbulent era of desegregation of the public schools, anti-war and race riots, a huge increase in drug use and increasing crime. Indeed, the overall crime rate in 1972 was nearly 25% higher than it was in 2012.

Parents in 1972 had grown up during the worst depression in world history, and fathers of 1972 students had served in the most catastrophic war in history: World War II-- where 60 million people died, followed by two other major wars. Families struggled with death, disability and PTSD without the assistance of psychotropic and anti- depressant drugs or widespread availability of therapy. Poverty and hunger and poor shelter were far more widespread than today.

Yet despite the disasters and catastrophes that plagued many families in mid 20th century America, their children were able to achieve academic success comparable to today's students, at 1/3 the cost. Other consumer services and products have improved dramatically in quality, often at a lower cost, since 1972. Why not the education service sector?

Here are a few reasons:
  •  Powerful teacher's unions have shifted the focus from education of their students to teacher compensation, benefits, lower class sizes and more teacher's aides and professional staff without any discernible effect on the academic achievement of their students.
  • Washington and Montpelier have placed more mandates and requirements on both teachers and administrators, resulting in costly distractions from the job of teaching children. It is the unrelenting trajectory of government to discover never-ending problems for which more government money and control are always the solution. The Educational Establishment is Exhibit 1.
  • The monopoly nature of our education system inevitably results in higher costs and lower quality. Americans have always recognized that monopolies are bad for consumers. We learned in school that the big oil and railroad monopolies of the early 20th century resulted in huge price increases, corruption in government, and over- concentration of power. Educational monopolies have similarly resulted in huge price increases, the corrupting influence of the teacher's unions on elected officials, and the concentration of power in Montpelier and Washington.

Now the monopolists in Montpelier want to shut down any competition. Vermont has had a competitive educational structure for 150 years with independent schools like St. Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute, school choice for 90 towns in the state, and local options to choose to turn government schools into independent schools. The Educational Establishment started to push this year to shut off those options, and have partially succeed with the General Assembly vote. Why? The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that independent schools provide better education at lower cost than many government schools in Vermont. Independent schools are certainly not "problems" that government needs to solve. The reason Montpelier wants to shut off these options is that the bureaucrats and politicians believe that the local voters and parents should not be making decisions about education. After all, their children are not even "socialized¨.
Monopolies hate competition. It causes them to work to be more efficient and produce a better product at lower cost. That takes hard work.

We need to not only keep the competitive nature of Vermont education system, but expand voters' and parents' options for Vermont children's education. The Educational Establishment has won round one with this latest vote. Voters need to let their Senators and Representatives know that they want to keep educational choice in Vermont schools.