While campaigning for the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan called for scaling down the intrusion of government in the schooling of American children. But Congress prevented the president from starving the U.S. Department of Education to death. I wish Reagan had succeeded. Education would have been in much better shape today without the billions of dollars of added waste from this dismal failure of a centralized bureaucracy.
Why are President-elect Obama's girls going to a private D.C. school? For the same reason President Clinton's daughter went there: better quality of instruction, better outcomes. Is it because private schools spend more per student than public ones? No. Some of the best schools in my native Bulgaria are public. Spending per student in Sofia's state-run schools is much less than in Washington. Yet many of the Bulgarian graduates receive merit-based scholarships from prestigious universities all around the world.
The answer is really simple: competition. Bulgarian parents choose public schools the same way American parents choose private schools. Students compete for educational programs that best fit their talents and ambitions. Schools compete for the best students who can excel in their rigorous programs, make successful careers, and add to the prestige of their institutions. It is a system that harnesses market forces.
America has put a lot of energy in integrating minorities. But it will continue to be segregated because the government has created a feudal educational system-with all the noble intentions, no doubt. Why do we not need a Department of Restaurants in D.C. to ensure that people of all colors and religions get good food? Because restaurants are allowed to compete against each other. If you don't like the food, you go next door-or across the state line. And if they serve food that makes you sick, you take them to court.
Why do we need bureaucrats in education? The answer: We need them about as much as we need another nostril. They are the problem, not the solution. Our public education is inadequate because there is no competition-each public school is a local monopoly. More money will do little good. If we want to really get out of the mess, we need to implement a nationwide voucher system, forcing all schools to compete by offering what parents and children value, not what some D.C. "expert" thinks they need.