2004 Election Issues (Schools: Local vs. National Standards.)

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By David Remer Aug. 1,2003 PoliWatch.Org

Due to the war on terrorism and the sluggish economy, this vitally important issue is not being given the attention it is due by every parent of a school age child in America. The privatization movement underway in this country will have dramatic consequences for the future of schools in America. And the choice between local and national standards will be made in 2004 whether voters are aware of the issue or not. In this article, the case for the relationship between a private school system and local standards vs. public school system and national standards will be made. Next, an examination of the effects each system will have on educational standards in American schools is explored. Finally, the choice between the two will be made clear in regards to the 2004 elections.

In a previous article on 2004 Election Issues, only half of the education issue in America was discussed; namely Private vs. Public education. Here, the other half of the issue is explored, Local Standards vs. National Standards. The two issues are related because with the privatization of America's schools will come an explosive growth in local educational standards. Many in the Republican Party, to include the religious right, seek such local standards in private schools. The Libertarian Party actively seeks local standards and The Constitution Party's goals would benefit from local standards. The Natural Law Party straddles the fence, arguing for private schools while calling for national standards. Whereas, if the public school system prevails, a goal of most Democrats and The Green Party, more national standards will likely be, not only accepted by the electorate, but asked for by the majority of it.

Why would privatizing America's schools lead to local standards? To begin, private schools in a local area will be motivated by profit and the competitive model free enterprise. The owners of one set of local schools will do a cost benefit analysis of their own operation compared to that of competitors in the area. Where possible, for marketing and advertising purposes, private school owners will implement procedures and programs that they can tout as being better than their competitors. Thus, they will maneuver to gain greater market share of students and, through economy of scale(1), decrease costs, increase revenues, and thereby increase profitability. On the face, this would appear to generate a healthy competition for higher quality education for all students in a given locale.

What is the consequence of this argument? First, we must examine the effects of privatizing schools in rural areas, then; examine the differences for urban areas. The competitive private school model leads to local educational standards and public school systems promote national standards. Having made this argument below, it will be obvious that there is a clear choice for American voters in 2004 in regard to this crucially important issue.

For rural areas, it is difficult to see how a smaller more geographically spread population of school age children could be economically served by more than one private educational company with a physical presence. In some rural areas, competitive companies may arise; but, over time, a monopoly on education will surely emerge. This result will occur from community demands for lower cost quality education. The consumer will demand lower costs, and one or another competitor will achieve marketing share in sufficient quantity to make its competitor unprofitable and leave the locale.

The reason is the fixed costs of education cannot be reduced below a certain level. The cost of buildings, loans on those buildings, utilities, maintenance, salaries, and ratio of teachers to students are fixed costs at a minimal level. If a competitor has a market share advantage, the disadvantaged education company will continue to lose market share because its lower profit margins will not permit keeping up with increased salaries, capital investments and marketing and advertising of the advantaged company. Ultimately the disadvantaged company's educational and, or, marketing performance comparisons with its competitor will fall. Consumers will choose to withdraw their students from the poorer performing school to the better performing one; or from the less well marketed school to the better marketed and advertised school.

Once a monopoly is established in the locale, the private company will seek equilibrium; where profits are sustainable and maximized at the lowest cost of educating a student. For an educational company, that would mean three things. First, the monopoly company would maintain performance standards of education sufficient to stay off any competitors from moving into the territory by providing the minimum educational performance required to keep the majority of consumers content with the amount that is being spent to educate their child. Second, it would mean that the key determinant of the quality of education the company needs to deliver will be the amount parents are willing to pay for their child's education. This amount, can and will, fluctuate with economic conditions of the rural area. Finally, it would mean that over time, in the absence of competition, standards for excellence in education will be diminished to that minimally required to maximize profitability.

Note: In a large rural area with large stratification of income levels, there may come to exist a couple of private educational companies or just one with multiple schools serving the area. However, the schools will not compete with each other, since, one company (or school) will tailor its education to the advantaged income groups providing the best education in the area, another company will tailor its program to the middle income population, and possibly a third will tailor its program to minimal standards for families with less than middle class incomes. Each will be a monopoly within its customer's income bracket. This ultimately will be what 'school choice' is all about.

For this reason, it will be difficult for parents to assess their child's educational performance because differing companies will be offering differing educational programs to differing income groups. There will be no standard for the assessment.

In urban areas, such as Dallas, competition of a sort can arise because the large population and income distribution could support competitive companies at profitable levels. But, again, the net result would be a stratification of educational quality according to income. Dallas may be able to support 2 or 3 competitive companies marketing their educational program to the wealthiest of the population, while 4 or 5 companies might be supported for the middle income groups. And finally, one or two companies may be profitable marketing their program to the lower income families.

It will probably be argued by some that parents, in concert with local government, will be able to exert control over the quality of education administered by a private company. While that will likely be true in many cases, another serious problem will arise. Namely, that this very body of parents whether they represent the majority of student's parents or not, will effectively replace the school board and set standards for education that the rest of the population in the locale may find objectionable, such as religious education in the school. Those unrepresented parents would have little recourse but to sell their home, leave their jobs, and move to another locale.

Privatizing schools opens the door for oppressive rule of a minority or majority in a locale in which they represent to the education company the standards they expect to be met in the classroom for all students in the community. Being a monopoly, the company will assess the financial viability of one group's standards for all students over another group's, and choose to implement the standards of one group over another based on the viability study. Thus, unrepresented groups in the community will be left with no voice in their student's educational experience at school.

The key issue then is one of standards. And where privatized education overtakes public education, a stratification of educational programs will be inevitable where differing standards of education are proffered to wage earners with school age children according to income. This follows the ever present and obvious rules of product and quality differentiation according to consumer stratification by income level. Therefore, a Republican approach toward privatizing education will ultimately lead to local standards of education being set by local competitors or monopoly educational companies. And within that locale, an additional and diverse set of educational standards will result as a result of income distribution and the varying degrees of quality of education which families can afford.

Conversely, minimum national standards can only be maintained if a national public school network is maintained. It is given that within differing income communities whose schools are supported by property taxes and/or state revenues; there will be differences in quality of education. A high minimum standard however can only be maintained if government remains the primary financial support for the school systems. As long as government, whether local, county, state or national, is funding a public school system, a high minimum standard for education can be maintained because the resources needed to achieve those standards can be allocated according to need in most cases.

The public funding of the agencies administering the distribution of public funds, whether that agency be the local school board or the state or national department of education, has an obligation to maintain a high minimum set of educational standards. President Bush has called for just such implementation. Now, if President Bush would backup, with resources to the schools needing them, his mandate for high minimum standards, the worst of schools in America should improve dramatically. Regretfully, President Bush has set those standards as a means of highlighting how some public schools are failing to meet those standards, rather than as a means of determining which schools to deliver more resources to. At the same time, the administration is pushing for vouchers to support private schools.(3) It intends to direct funds needed to shore up failing public schools into voucher support programs that will underwrite private schools.

Public school systems permit access and voice to all consumers of education in the district. If concerns are raised which negatively affect even a minority of students or student families, the public school system has a responsibility to address those concerns. That responsibility stems from its non profit status its mission statement which is to provide quality educational service for all students in the publicly supported school system.

There is a host of research demonstrating both that financial resources do enhance quality of education and don't enhance quality of education. There are also a number of research papers touting the competitive benefits of private schools on public schools, and many debunking the claim that private education is cheaper than public education. While such research will eventually have a role in shaping education, they fail to address the central issue regarding private vs. public education in America. That issue is whether local or national standards will best serve America's future via privatized education or public education, respectively.

Thus, the choice for voters in 2004 regarding local or national school standards is largely a conservative and liberal choice. Conservatives seek ending publicly funded schools in favor of private schools and the subsequent local standards that will prevail. Liberals seek enhancing the public school system and support national school standards. The Green Party and the Democrat Party represent the stance for national standards and its prerequisite publicly funded school systems. The Republican, Libertarian, and Constitution parties hold the stance for local standards by way of privatizing the educational system. The Natural Law party is split on the issue. America can have a relatively uniform educational system offering a minimum high standard of education to all Americans. Or, American can have a multi-standard educational system in which disposable income determines how much quality in education their children will receive. This issue is a clearly delineated one for voters in 2004.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on August 3, 2003 2:38 PM.

Medicare: Bush speaks Left today, will move Right in Dec. of 2004. was the previous entry in this blog.

2004 Election Issues (Public Debt) is the next entry in this blog.

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