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An Open Letter to Two New Republican Governors: Scott and Sununu

An Open Letter to Governors-elect Sununu and Scott-

The following is my attempt at satire: a letter directed to two newly elected Governors in Vermont and New Hampshire. While I have no reason to think Governor-elect Scott could enact these proposals, it is entirely possible Governor-elect Sununu might! Here’s the letter:

As you begin your term of office you each have a golden opportunity to change the course of public education in your respective states. This is especially the case now that states have broader discretion on the use of federal funds for education thanks to the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act by Congress. And given President-elect Trump’s nominees for Secretary of Education and Attorney General you’ll probably get even more leeway in spending. And to provide even more opportunity for change, each of you each of you will be able to appoint new State Board members and the heads of your education departments. The stars are aligned for you to make some big changes in the direction of public schools in your states!

 

In an effort to help you capitalize on this opportunity, I am offering a modest proposal on actions you can take to replace stolid “government schools” managed by elected school boards with agile and efficient “free enterprise schools” managed by MBAs with a deep understanding of market fundamentals.

 

First, you need to replace your current chief education officers with business leaders or philanthropists. Anyone with a background in public education will be incapable of implementing the kind of market-based program needed to truly reform “government schools”. An educator will be reluctant to use technology to disrupt the traditional classroom instruction that requires human interaction and will be inclined to work with and listen to the unionized teachers. An entrepreneur or philanthropist will see the value of running schools like a business. If you really want to be bold, you might replace the entire State Board and state department with an education management company. They have worked effectively in Michigan and in several urban areas and there is no reason to think they couldn’t do an equally effective job managing a state department.

 

Second, you need introduce legislation that will give all parents choice when it comes to selecting their schools. Instead of requiring students to attend a “government school” in their community, give parents the flexibility to enroll their children in a virtual school, a religiously affiliated school, a non-profit school, or a private for-profit school of their choice. After all, you aren’t forced to buy your groceries at a single “government store” or eat at only one “government restaurant”. Why should the children in your state be compelled to attend a “government school” in their town that functions like a monopoly?

 

Third, you need to cap education spending. Everyone knows schools have plenty of money! By cutting the budget you will force the market-based “free enterprise schools” to respond by hiring lower wage employees and using technology to help students prepare for the standardized tests whose scores will help parents decide which school is best for their child. To help the “free enterprise schools” in their efforts to secure the low-wage help they need you’ll probably need to introduce right-to-work legislation to bring an end to the unions who drive up the costs of “government schools”.

 

Fourth, you need to enact legislation to eliminate school districts and superintendents. These elected boards and administrators exist solely to enforce government regulations. We don’t have elected boards or high-priced administrators overseeing or enforcing government regulations on private businesses. If consumers don’t like the service they get from a business, they stay away from it and eventually it closes. The same thing will happen with “free enterprise schools”. If a school doesn’t give the kind of services parents are seeking, they will eventually go out of business. And if the parents sue the failing “free enterprise school” for poor performance the CEO can follow our President-elect’s lead and settle with them for a small fraction of the potential award.

 

In looking at these recommendations you might be concerned about displacing employees in school districts and elected officials on school boards. There is no need for concern. The teachers in “government schools” will be happy to work for the “free enterprise schools” even if the wages and benefits are lower. And if they don’t want the jobs, there are thousands of recent graduates who would welcome the work. Those aspiring educators may not have college degrees or the teaching certificate issued by the government, but that is a small price to pay to create the kind of deregulated environment public education needs. As for the displaced elected board members, they can devote their free time and boundless energy volunteering in the “enterprise schools” or the many sectarian schools that will benefit from the voucher plans you enact.

 

In looking at these recommendations you might also be concerned about legal action if special education students are shortchanged or if funding inequities occur because some communities raise additional funds to augment the state vouchers so their residents can attend fancier schools. You have no need to worry! Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, views special education as “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and as Alabama Attorney General he fought to retain a funding mechanism that the State Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional because it underfunded the poorest school districts in the state. Given his record, he is unlikely to block you if you move forward with any voucher plan and if Congress is so inclined he may even support legislation that would allow you to use special education funds to help reduce the need for additional taxes.

 

With deregulation, privatization, and free market ideas at the forefront in government today, the sky is the limit when it comes to making wholesale changes in public education. If you need any help drafting the laws needed to accomplish these ideas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has some off-the-shelf legislation that will enable you to take prompt action. My advice to you is to act quickly before the public catches on to the direction privatization and deregulation is leading us.

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