Traditional public schools suffer declining enrollment in Colorado and across the country. If it continues, the trend could revolutionize K-12 education. Let’s ensure that it improves the lives and futures of teachers – grossly underpaid and undervalued by the only union-led system – and their students.
Research from the American Enterprise Institute finds that more than 1.2 million students have dropped out of the public school system since 2020. The74, an education nonprofit, finds that up to 1.5 million students have dropped out of public schools since 2020.
Denver Public Schools shows an enrollment decline of 3% from 2019 to 2021. A district report predicts that trajectory will increase and continue.
In Colorado Springs, the city’s central School District 11 suffered a staggering drop of 4,100 students in the past four years — a decline that began after massive tax increases approved by voters to provide the district with about $40 million a year in revenue extra. .
For students in traditional public schools, that means fewer resources. In Colorado, education money is attached to each child, so declining enrollment causes declining revenue.
For teachers, this means layoffs and ridiculously low wages for the college-educated professionals entrusted with our children, and therefore the future of society. As explained today in a newspaper article, Colorado teachers earn almost 36% less than other workers with college degrees.
Experts told The Washington Examiner, the Gazette’s sister publication, that declining fertility and birth rates are partly due to declining enrollment.
In contrast, the transition of students from traditional schools has all the features of a free market phenomenon. Parents move their children to public and private schools, or homeschool them, for a variety of reasons that add up to a perfect storm.
The exodus began years before the pandemic, with the nationwide census peaking in 2014.
The pandemic intensified the change. Schools that have been closed for long periods, which have been hit hardest by the voluntary exodus, have forced parents to evaluate options outside the traditional model.
Virtual homeschooling during the pandemic has warned parents about classroom guidelines that tell children to judge each other based on race and sexual orientation, which a large proportion of parents reject. Additionally, declining test scores across the country have parents questioning whether traditional public schools will prepare their children to succeed.
Parents and their children are consumers of education. Given the options, consumers will not face malfunction. If the majority of students in a school cannot read and write at grade level, expect parents to select them for better performing schools.
School choice began with the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The court said school districts could no longer force the segregation of black and white students.
Since that decision, legislatures in Colorado, Florida and many other states have paved the way for parents to create charter schools — each designed to serve children’s particular needs and interests. The US Supreme Court has ruled three times in four years in favor of allowing taxpayer money to attend children in private sectarian schools.
Rich kids have always had the choice of school. Modern policies extend this freedom to economically disadvantaged children.
A perfect world would provide a perfect school for every child. We would have schools for artistic children, autistic children, those gifted in math, science, writing, music and other disciplines. All children would have equal access to unlimited choices.
A perfectly competitive world would provide good teachers with salaries more equal to their professional colleagues in law, finance, and business administration.
We will never have a perfect world. However, market disruption and competition improve cars, homes, energy products, telephones, computers, televisions, restaurants, universities, and a variety of services. Freed from regulatory hurdles, these market factors do the same with K-12 schools.
Parents devoted to their children make up the most powerful demographic in the country. If they want alternative schools, nothing will stop them from getting their way.
Instead of fighting this trend, school boards, legislatures, unions and bipartisan leadership at all levels should allow it to improve the lives of teachers and students. As seen throughout history, competitive innovation gives us progress.