Market-Driven Solutions to Public Educationrnby Lisa Graham KeeganrnI f we elect new school board members or run for the boardrnA ourselves, we can expect improved schools.” This is ourrnnational misunderstanding.rnNothing in the traditional public school system inherentlyrnpromotes excellence. Even the free election of school boardrnmembers—a token nod to democracy—fails to overcome thisrnsystem’s fatal flaws. As a good friend always put it, a bad systemrnbeats a good person every time.rnThe way to a superior educational system is through the exercisernof freedom and democracy, national principles that arernmocked in our form of public education. In fact, although thernstructural basis for public schools is elective and thereforern”democratic,” the system itself is a centrally planned monopoly.rnWe do not elect a board to decide which groceries should bernavailable in the neighborhood, and we would not stand for anrnelected board to provide all the transportation in our area. Sornwhat is democratic about providing a small group of people thernexclusive right to decide how and where all of the children in arngiven area will be educated? The system is fundamentally misguidedrnand should be eliminated.rnBut a truly democratic and open system of public educationrnis forming. Market-driven solutions to educational problemsrnrecognize that the public, as purchaser, has clear and concisernrequirements that must be met and for which we are willing tornpay. While the state provides the funding for public education,rnit should neither operate schools nor place children in schools.rnFamilies must choose their own schools, with the state role con-rnLisa Graham Keegan is the Superintendent of Public Instructionrnfor the state of Arizona.rnfined to oversight and the distribution of information that parentsrncan use in their selection process.rnTwo major movements are using market-based solutions tornreform public education and to shift power away from governmentrnand central planners toward students, families, and localrncommunities. Voucher programs offer students the chance tornchoose schools outside the public system, and charter schoolsrncreate autonomous schools under contract to provide education.rnUnder both programs, the school is chosen by the family,rnand state money provided for the child’s education is given directlyrnto the school.rnThe countr}”s few voucher programs have been hamperedrnby legal wrangling over whether students should be able to usernthem to attend religious schools. Thanks to a recent court decisionrnin Wisconsin, voucher programs will undoubtedly bernconsidered by the United States Supreme Court in its nextrnterm. Given a favorable result, these programs should multiplyrnexponentially. Demand for school vouchers is high, and policiesrnare focused mostly on children whose parents could notrnotherwise choose a private school. Many private philanthropicrnefforts have expanded the availability of these vouchers whilernwe await a court ruling and more progressive state policies.rnCharter schools have caught on nationwide. Since Minnesotarnestablished the first ones in 1991, 34 states have followedrnsuit and adopted laws allowing charter schools. Arizona has experiencedrnthe most rapid growth in charter schools because wernhave allowed them to evolve. W-Tiile other states tiptoe into thernmarketplace, we have welcomed innovation and have beenrnblessed with board members who understand that the transformationrnfrom centrally planned to market-driven schools re-rnSEPTEMBER 1998/21rnrnrn