David Stokes

Sarah Brodsky disagrees with my opinion that there are too many school districts (524 to be exact) in Missouri. Her argument is that choice breeds competition, competition benefits schools and students, and more districts means more competition. She cites a study that proves her point. I don't doubt the study but it explicitly states that it is measuring and comparing results in metropolitan area school districts, not rural areas. From the study:

That is, the effects are substantial if one considers moving from one end of the Tiebout choice spectrum (a metropolitan area like Miami) to the other (a metropolitan area like Boston). Naturally, most metropolitan areas are between the two ends of the spectrum, and the current variation in Tiebout choice among metropolitan areas explains a modest amount of their differences in school productivity.

My point clearly stated that I think too many small, rural school districts are the primary problem here.  Further, choice is indeed a wonderful thing in many ways, but simple logic dictates that there is a limit to the top number. If 524 is not too many districts, then would we be better off with 1,200? Of course there is a limit to the benefits of choice contained by a large number of districts. I think 524 is WAY too high. The tax dollars wasted by 524 sets of administration, upkeep on a large number of underattended schools, and much more, clearly tell me the number should be much lower. What should it be? I have no idea, but cutting it in half would be a good start — and still give Missourians plenty of choice.

There is such a thing as too much choice. This article sums up the various ideas very well. From my own experience as a recent father, I would call it the "Babies 'R' Us" dilemma. If one company had a monopoly on making baby bottles, that would be terrible. Just two companies is better, but still bad. But at some point, the variety of choices leads to diminishing returns. Just go to "Babies 'R' Us" and try to decide which of the two dozen brands of bottles is right for your child. If you are like me, you quickly realize that the amount of time spent trying to determine that answer would be an enormous effort that would almost certainly result in more or less a tie among the products. So you just trust that "Babies 'R' Us" has tested them all, and buy the ones on sale.

About the Author

David Stokes
David Stokes was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute from 2007 to 2014 and was director of development from 2014 to 2016.