Break the Monopoly


In a recent article, Robert Pondiscio, a Senior Fellow and Vice President for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, made a compelling argument on the need for competition in education. Pondiscio is writing from experience as a former public school educator and as a parent. As Pondiscio explains:

My progressive credentials were in reasonably good order until I became a South Bronx public school teacher. It didn’t take long after that to become uncomfortably aware of a glaring inequity: Each morning I dropped my daughter off at the elite Manhattan private school that my wife and I had chosen, then taught fifth grade two subway stops away at one of the city’s lowest-performing public schools, where my students had no choice but to attend their zoned neighborhood school.

This experience led Pondiscio to become a “choice advocate,” which prompted him to start speaking with his students’ parents about a private school option. “Over time, I become more vocal and adamant on the matter. My students deserved the same flexibility and freedom that I had to find a school that was the right fit,” wrote Pondiscio.

Robert Pondiscio’s story is just another example of a parent and teacher who could choose not only where his children would receive the best education but also realized that other parents should have the same opportunity. Parental choice in education is about allowing parents the freedom to select the best school for their children. As Pondiscio wrote:

My students deserved the same flexibility and freedom that I had to find a school that was the right fit. You don’t have to be Milton Friedman [Nobel prize winning economist] to grasp the essential logic: Break the monopoly of public education and the tyranny of zip codes, force schools to compete for students and funding, and they can no longer afford to be lazy, lousy, or both. Give parents the ability to vote with their feet—and take school funding dollars out the door when they go—and you’ve upended the traditional power dynamic. Parents are now consumers armed with options and a backpack full of cash. Simplicity itself.

Opponents of school choice argue that having greater competition in education is unfair. The claim is made that public schools are different, and they have limited resources, and therefore it is an apples to oranges comparison. This argument does not hold water. It is a fact that public schools have limited resources, but the same is true for private schools. Private schools are dependent upon parents paying tuition and raising funds, while public schools rely on taxpayer dollars.

Taxpayer funding has increased for public education in recent years. Since 2011, Iowa has increased education spending by close to $1 billion. Today, public education consumes 54 percent of the state’s General Fund budget. Where are those additional dollars going? A Kennesaw State study showed that since 1992 much more public-school dollars have gone to administration bloat rather than adding teachers.

Academic standards are also different from public versus private schools. However, most private schools are accredited and require licensed teachers. Private schools are also held accountable to Iowa law and the Iowa State Board of Education and must meet or exceed state standards.

Competition in education creates a better environment. Just as in the marketplace, competition forces a better product. If schools are forced to compete for students, it will challenge them to provide a better quality of education while using their dollars more wisely. As it stands, public education has a monopoly on education.  Education cannot be a one-sized-approach. Just as institutions of higher education need to compete, public schools should also.

It is time to break the public education monopoly and allow all parents the opportunity for choice in education.