by James A. Bacon
Virginia is gearing up for its biennial budget extravaganza, and Governor Terry McAuliffe has the chance to put his stamp on state spending priorities without meddling from previous or succeeding gubernatorial administrations. Yesterday he announced his plan for increasing spending on K-12 education by $1 billion over the 2016-2018 budget.
Key initiatives include:
- Adding roughly 2,500 instructional positions — about one per elementary school and two per middle and high school — at a cost of $139 million.
- Funding the cost of re-benchmarking the Standards of Quality (SOQs, not to be confused with Standards of Learning, SOLs) by $430 million.
- Providing $50 million to divisions based on free-lunch population to be spent flexibly.
- And committing $41 million for a “cost of competing” adjustment in areas with high living costs.
Said McAuliffe in making the announcement: “With thoughtful, bold ideas like the ones I am proposing, we will get back on the right track and ensure that we are laying the foundations for the New Virginia Economy. … I believe that if we want to have a world-class economy, we need a world-class education system, and this is where it starts.”
Bacon’s bottom line: The budget proposals may indeed be “thoughtful,” in the sense that a lot of thought went into them, but I would hardly call them “bold.” This is just stuffing more money into the same old educational model, tweaking the margins and packaging it with lofty rhetoric. To suggest that these changes will put Virginia on the path to a world-class education system is to engage in fabulist thinking.
You want bold? I’ll give you bold. Take the $5.5 billion in aid to public education given to school systems, and instead of empowering the bureaucratic status quo, empower parents of school children by giving them vouchers worth $4,000 per child. (The $5.5 billion averages out to $4,300 per child for the current school year, but if vouchers were given to every school child, they would cover children now attending private school as well as public school students; to stay budget neutral, the voucher per student would have to be smaller.)
Thousands of families that can’t afford private school tuition at $6,000 to $10,000 per child (and much more for elite institutions) could stretch their budgets and send their kids to private schools if they had a $4,000 voucher.
Of course, anyone who wanted to send their kids to public school would be free to do so. Local governments would continue supplementing their public school budgets with local and federal funds. Public school students would come out ahead from the arrangement because, to the extent that more kids attended private school, public schools would have fewer kids to educate — and more money per kid.
Virginia would experience a surge in experimentation. We would see educational marketplaces arising to match students with schools, teachers, tutors and teaching collaboratives. Lines would blur between school-based education, online education and home schooling. Free from red tape and bureaucracy, teachers could be freer to practice their profession as they choose — directly accountable to their students and students’ parents, not to bureaucrats and arbitrary standards. Bad teachers would lose clientele. Great teachers would prosper.
Will anything like this ever happen in Virginia? Of course not. We can’t even pass a decent charter school bill. But as a mental exercise, it’s useful to remind ourselves how hide-bound we are in our thinking, how timid we are in our actions, and how totally unserious we are about giving our children a world-class education.There are currently no comments highlighted.