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Moving Toward A Free-Market In Education

Moving Toward A Free-Market In EducationLaura CarnoDecember 9, 2014

 

Imagine if you could shop for your child’s education just like you’d shop for a new laptop.

If you were shopping for a new laptop, you would look online at the features to see if they match your needs. You would look at reviews and at what Consumer Reports has to say about the specs, the durability and the overall performance. You might ask your friends what brand laptop they have and how they like it. You also might visit Best Buy and the Apple Store to get the look and feel of various models.

We are all very accustomed to shopping this way for most consumer products in our lives. How would we respond if we simply had to accept the taxpayer-funded laptop that our state government determined was best for us? One store, one salesperson, take it or leave it.

In Colorado where I live, we are luckier than some other states because we have some choices in schools. It is true that some districts have highly rated traditional public schools, but that is          neither universal nor the norm. Consistently, the schools that rank the highest in performance and college preparation are charter and private schools.

Take for example Liberty Common High School, a public charter school in Fort Collins, CO. They focus on a classical liberal-arts curriculum accentuating math, science and engineering. Every student is required to take 4 years of math and a foreign language. They have high expectations and achieve high results. Although Liberty doesn’t teach to any standardized tests, their students consistently out-perform students in other schools who are teaching to the standardized tests. Liberty consistently achieves the highest test scores in Colorado, and even broke the ACT record this year.

Charter schools are public schools. They require no tuition to be paid by the parents. They are part of traditional school districts and are funded by tax dollars. They actually have less money to work with since they do not receive any tax money for facilities as their non-charter counterparts do. They need to use a portion of the per-pupil student funding for facilities, yet they are still achieving superior results. Charter Schools are far from rare. Twelve percent of Colorado’s K-12 students are now in Charter Schools. With charter schools achieving such wonderful results with more efficient spending of taxpayer dollars, it’s no surprise that responsible and active parents are choosing charter schools for their children.

Private schools require parents to pay separate tuition in order for their child to attend. Does that mean that all private schools are only for the wealthy and elite? Look at the example of Arrupe Jesuit High School in North Denver. The average family income among the students’ families is $31,000 per year. Over 50% of these students will be the first in their family to graduate high school. So how do these families afford private school tuition? The Arrupe students work for a portion of their tuition through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program. There is a longer school day and school year to allow students to work 5 days per month at area partner companies. They earn valuable work experience and are able to work for a portion of their own tuition. The parents pay a small portion of the tuition, which may be as little as $100 per month. In addition, Arrupe partners with the Ace Scholarships Program, which provides families with the remainder of the tuition costs, through money raised from individuals and businesses.

The performance at Arrupe is astounding as 100% of graduates are accepted to college. This busts the myth that kids from poorer families are destined to squander their potential in poor achieving traditional schools. They have a better chance to succeed when their parents take an active role, and when their community invests in their opportunity to attend a high performing private school. Who wouldn’t want to send their kids to the best schools available?

If traditional public schools do not work to improve and keep the remaining parents happy, students will continue to leave and so will the public funds received per pupil. This competition improves the performance of all schools.

Although Colorado has more choice in education than some other states, we still face roadblocks from some in government who want to preserve the public school paradigm. State Senator-elect, Michael Merrifield was a previous State House member who served as the chair of the House Education Committee. During a discussion about charter schools, Merrifield famously quipped “there is a special place in hell for supporters of charter schools.” Why would a former educator denigrate parents who simply want the best for their kids, especially when the performance of these schools is better than traditional public schools?

It’s time to remove any bias against school choice, or against parents who are looking for better schools for their kids. It is not the fault of these parents or children who are left to deal with the sub-par schools in their communities. It is the fault of the obstructionists to progress and a better future for our kids. All we ask is to have a choice. After all, it is the way we shop for everything else.

Laura Carno

Founder, I Am Created Equal

Visit Laura Carno’s personal site here.