Food for Thought about California Public Education

If you live in California and are exposed to any form of media ads, you’ve likely heard or read the shocking claims that “out-of-state billionaires” are engaged in an evil plot to profit off the backs of public-school children by diverting education dollars to charter schools; that teachers are grossly underpaid; and that California is hurting for educational funding.  The progressive Utopia known as California (AKA the fifth-largest economy in the world) may boast the highest rate of poverty in the U.S. due to its all-you-can-eat buffet of good intentions, but the message is clear -- the taxpayers need to further tighten their belts.

We’re constantly told that the “solution” to California’s educational problems is more and more money (coupled with whatever the latest fad in technocratic tinkering is).  But due to the structural nature of public education, no amount of money is ever enough.  It makes as much sense to leave the job of educating our children to the control of a state-run monopoly as it would to enact a similar socialized restaurant system within the state.

One doesn’t need an advanced degree in gastronomics from an elite university to be a decent food critic as people love to eat and naturally steer clear of restaurants offering terrible food and/or customer service.  So, how long would the public tolerate state-owned restaurants where the food was mediocre in the higher income neighborhoods and unpalatable in the lowest ones (while simultaneously getting worse with the adoption of a federal Common Crud menu); adjusted for inflation, dinner out costs around three times what it did forty years ago; and underperforming employees were nearly impossible to fire?  I suspect as long as it would take for hunger pains to kick in.

Californians would take to the streets if restaurants were modeled after public education, especially because the ability to dine elsewhere wouldn’t be a viable option for most.  Sure, some fabulous private restaurants would be available to the public, but a state system would have a monopoly using money forcibly taken from the taxpayer, so eating at a private restaurant would require any would-be customer to effectively pay for their meal twice (as would home cooking).  This would prevent nearly all but the upper middle class and wealthy from being able to afford a decent meal out.  Of course, any leadership tasked with the oversight of public restaurants wouldn’t dream of allowing their own families to eat at one.

But instead of going bankrupt from an inefficient use of resources (e.g., our local high school was paying a 50+-year-old man to walk around and size-up teenage girls for dress code violations) and for producing a terrible product/service, the progressive “solution” -- as with education -- would be to circle back to the taxpayer.

Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t socialized California restaurants (yet) so they must still bend to the will of the consumer in what remains of the free market, or simply go out of business.  Similarly, stripping the monopoly power of public education and introducing market-based reforms using something along the line of vouchers (minus most strings) would allow parents to freely choose the schools that provide the best education for their kids.  The question for progressives then arises: how do private schools earn a profit without keeping customers satisfied? 

Organizations protecting the status quo in the name of children are only interested in maintaining a corrupt monopoly and are fearful of parents being given the choice to direct tax dollars elsewhere (heck, I’d be pissed if someone took away my monopoly too).  That isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of great people working in public education.  But it doesn’t matter what their intentions are as they are stuck within a system that was doomed to fail from the very beginning. 

As for school funding and teacher pay in the golden state: it should be obvious that free-market reforms, not more money (A classroom of 25 kids now receives over $400K per year), would improve California’s educational woes, but teachers claiming to be underpaid should understand that they are in fact paid very, very well -- even before generous benefits are added -- and it is the cost of living in this hyperregulated nanny-state that makes life difficult for the poor and middleclass. 

I’ll offer one final morsel to chew on for those who think schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid.  In California, the state now spends at least $23 billion per year on illegal immigration.  Given there are about 300,000 public school teachers in California, that translates to more than $75K per year, per teacher. 

Clearly, in addition to needing market-based educational reform, bloated California can only afford to choose one of those entree items on the menu.  Will it be sanctuary or education?

Follow Scott on Twitter: @Politiseeds    

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