September 15, 2008

September 15, 2008 | Commentary on Education

Class is in Session - What Will the New School Year Bring?

Change is in the air. The leaves are changing colors, and there is less sunlight -- a sure sign fall is around the corner, bringing -- a new school year. And lawmakers already have their first assignment: fix the broken education system that fails to provide a quality education for our nation's children.

The statistics speak for themselves: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, roughly half of all Hispanic teens living in the United States will drop out of high school this year. That means millions of our nation's youth will wind up unqualified for a number of high-paying jobs and employment opportunities because they lack a high-school diploma. And yet, despite the continued Hispanic growth taking place nationwide, it seems as if lawmakers don't view this for what it is -- a crisis.

For too many policymakers, it seems, the tenuous theory of global warming is more of a pressing issue than the established reality that our education system is providing only about half our children with a quality education.

It isn't that we're not spending enough money. According to the U.S. Department of Education, American taxpayers shell out more than $10,000 annually for each child enrolled in public school. Real per-student spending has doubled since the 1970s. And federal spending on elementary and secondary education has increased by 138 percent since 1985.

But measures of student outcomes, such as high-school graduation rates and student test scores have, for the most part, remained flat over time. Simply spending more on education hasn't been the answer.

And while countless American families continue to send their children to failing schools, surveys indicate that lawmakers in our nation's capital aren't waiting around for the education system to improve. They're exercising what amounts to parental school choice -- sending their own children to private or charter schools.

All parents should have the same power.

School-choice policies give parents the chance to decide where to send their children for a quality education. Instead of being forced to send their children to their local public school (regardless of whether it's effective), parents would be able to choose a school that works. By empowering parents, we'd put pressure on public schools to improve or risk losing countless students in a mass exodus.

Adversaries of school choice include the powerful teachers unions. They understand that disrupting the status quo could mean that many union members could find themselves out of a job or see their benefits and salary cut. As a powerful interest group, unions work aggressively around the country to oppose policies that would give families the chance to choose a different school for their children. Instead, they continue to argue that we should just provide more funding for public education.

Parents and taxpayers need to stand up and demand a better future for the nation's children. American education is in a state of crisis. Simply pouring more tax dollars into a broken system will do little to rescue the millions of children who are currently stuck in low-performing public schools.

As American kids go back to school, we need to recognize the crisis facing American education and do our part to support reforms that give all parents the power to give their children a quality education. The future of our children is worth some extra homework.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation (

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry

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