Customers Benefit from Competition
The Columbia Tribune reports on a debate over legislation that would allow parents more freedom to transfer kids between schools:
Allowing children to transfer between school districts would only leave the neediest students behind in struggling districts, veteran Columbia Board of Education member Chuck Headley told Missouri lawmakers yesterday.
Headley and Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase were among about a dozen education officials who testified against an open enrollment proposal at a hearing of a special House committee on student achievement. A bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, would allow students in unaccredited or partly accredited school districts to enroll in neighboring districts.
“My experience in intra-district transfers is that it is the students whose parents are the most informed about school policy or involved in their student’s life that ask to transfer to what they believe – and I emphasize ?believe’ – to be a better school to serve their child,” Headley testified. “The ones behind get left behind.”
Headly gets the effects of school choice precisely backwards: the prospect of losing students (and with them, funding), would spur failing districts to improve the quality of instruction. Hence, not only would this plan benefit the kids who are able to transfer to a better district, but it would also benefit the kids who are “left behind,” as the old district will redouble its efforts to improve its services to ensure that they don’t lose any more children.
We all know that competition benefits customers in other areas of the economy. Dierbergs and Schnucks work hard to provide the best food at the lowest prices, because they know that if they don’t, their customers will switch to a competitor. If a new grocery store wanted to come to town, would it make any sense to complain that customers who continue to shop at Schnucks or Dierbergs would be “left behind” by customers who patronized the new grocery store? Of course not. More competition means that each grocery store needs to work even harder to keep their customers happy.
Right now, public schools don’t have to work very hard at all to keep their “customers.” Some parents are wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools, but for the rest of the parents, they’re stuck with a single option. Allowing parents to switch between public schools would be a much-needed step toward increasing competition in education. To paraphrase a widely-aired commercial, “when schools compete, kids win.”