What do you think of when you see queues of 400+ people? Today that might mean the release of a new iPhone, or a Chick-Fil-A opening, or Black Friday. The good news about those lines is that the people waiting there are very likely to get the product they want.
Earlier in the 20th Century, lines of 400+ people occurred during highly unusual circumstances: the dire economic circumstances of the Great Depression; World War II resource rationing. The 20th Century also saw, and the 21st Century continues to see, long lines to purchase basic commodities in certain nations under certain circumstances. Think of the former USSR “breadlines” . Think of recent disruptions in the markets for basic goods in Venezuela.
What do the Great Depression, rationing in the 20th Century, the Communist Regime in the former USSR, and the failures of Venezuela have in common with education today?
Lines – Waiting Lists – Queues
The way we provide education today is similar to the “command and control” systems of communist and dictatorial regimes and the rationing of scarce resources in unusual economic environments.
Recently I published a series on the Top Schools In Georgia. Many parents commented on a system that rations services and leaves the quality of education up to a lottery system. “It is a great opportunity for a precious few, and it is a patently unequal opportunity” stated one parent. “The entire lottery system needs to be blown up. It is a dinosaur. Many kids who are deserving and qualify cannot get in simply because they aren’t lucky enough to get their name drawn out of a hat. That’s not right” replied another.
Pat Copeland, director of the DeKalb’s school choice program, said as many as 4,000 students apply each year for about 400 available openings. Roughly 3,600 students wait in line each year to get in. We have an explicit rationing system that is administered by an educational bureau. Nothing requires or signals the bureau to respond to the market demand for choices in education.
Recently, Commissioner Jester wrote a post on Facebook that compared how our American society views the Food Stamp program in comparison to educational vouchers. In light of an Atlanta Business Chronicle article where a “Georgia man gets five years in prison for $5.1 million food stamp fraud scheme“, Commissioner Jester suggested (clearly to point out the hypocrisy) the “food vouchers program” (food stamps) be replaced by public food stores (just like we have public schools). Much like public schools, public food stores would be staffed and maintained with public food workers that continually test food recipients and modify the food they can have based on their results.
It was a critique of what we accept as dogmatic for public education. Commissioner Jester pointed out the hypocrisy of having a food voucher program (food stamps) while everyone “freaks out” when you talk about vouchers for education. “I think [public food stores] would cause outrage. Yet, we don’t question how we deliver education to our children. Just food for thought” says Commissioner Jester.
Like the Soviet style breadlines, how did we end up with public schools with long lines and rationed education services?
By: Nancy Jester, DeKalb County Commissioner
Note: Actually, the word shortage isn’t one economists would really use. We most accurately look at the supply and demand “at a given price”. If the market is allowed to “clear” – or come to equilibrium – in a free market system, there is no “shortage” in the economic sense.
America did have food and resource allocation “issues” as close back as WWII, when the government rationed certain products. But, still, the US government was wise enough not to set up a Food Delivery System. I guarantee you that if we set up a Government Food System, we would see Soviet/Venezuelan types of “shortages” and other inefficiencies that always happen absent a free flowing market.
Right now, we see what Soviet style delivery of education has yielded in the US and right here in DeKalb. The “demand” for seats at various programs is much higher than the supply. There are no market forces incentivizing the creation of programs parents and students want. There is no market force to drive these things, despite the clear signals provided by waiting lists.
Nope there are only self serving bureaucrats who think they know best, who have never known another way and never been educated in the fundamentals of economic principles.
Additionally, a careful review of history would show you that the USA had, at the beginning of the 20th century, over 100,000 school districts. Today, there are less than 14,000. There has been a massive consolidation of big-Ed, especially big bureaucracy. These mergers were not driven by the need to expand education. These governmental consolidations served to expand bureaucratic salaries and positions.
We have far more overhead today than when we had more actual districts. Actual percentages of public funds collected for education spent on instruction is lower. These things are not consistent with “expanding” education. They are consistent with what economists call “rent seeking” among bureaucrats. Even when government officials use the words “expand” or “enhance” or “provide” along with some group that they say will benefit from a new mandate, the legislation only serves as a Full Employment Act for Educational Bureaucrats. There is scant evidence that the “expansion” provided any benefit to society.
The Brookings Institute did a comprehensive study on Georgia and Oklahoma’s pre-K programs (the 2 most universal in the nation) and concluded “that the best available evidence raises serious doubts that a large public investment in the expansion of pre-k for four-year-olds will have the long-term effects that advocates tout.” So why do we still have this program – one variable in its success column is “rent seeking” of elected officials and bureaucrats alike. It’s always struck me as ironic that many “progressive” nations have a large percentage of students in publicly funded private education. If the idea is to educate the child, it needn’t mean the creation of a bureau, as we have done. It could mean the provision of the means to educate the child – just as we provide food stamps as a means to feed the child. I pray for more intellectual consistency in government. I know, that’s a prayer I’ll be praying for a long time.