Free market competition improves public education, too


Free market advocates and thinkers argue that market forces and competition motivate businesses and entrepreneurs to innovate and create new goods and services that improve peoples’ lives. Over time those goods and services become better and often less expensive. For instance, consider how free-market-driven innovation has led to better and in many cases cheaper computers, telephones, cars and home appliances over the years. More importantly, think about how such free market innovations have improved the lives of almost every Utahn in the state.

School choice advocates in Utah have similarly sought to apply free market ideas to education policy in order to establish competition, thereby motivating innovation and leading to better academic outcomes for children and parents in Utah’s public schools. It seems that those efforts are working.

Just this year, the state Legislature allowed public school students to begin taking individual classes from any approved digital learning providers to complement their traditional classes at their brick-and-mortar school. When public school students enroll in this program, state funding goes from the student’s school district to the online class provider. In other words, the state online learning program is creating competition for taxpayer funding between traditional and online public schools.

The result has been innovation by school districts. The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran a story explaining how various school districts across the state have begun to create or expand their online offerings to keep taxpayer dollars within the school district. As one school district representative put it: “Once SB65 came out and was signed into law, we thought, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something in public education to respond.’”

[pullquote]Competition and free market principles give public schools a compelling reason to produce new, innovative ways of educating children. [/pullquote]There you have it. Competition and free market principles give public schools a compelling reason to produce new, innovative ways of educating children. When those incentives exist, public schools respond.

And as it has proven in other areas of life, free market competition will, over time, drive educators to innovate and produce better ways of educating children. Similarly, free market competition will drive education entrepreneurs to find ways of producing similar or better academic outcomes for less money than traditional ways of educating children. Digital learning –from both the angle of its ability to provide better education as well as lower the cost of education – is a prime example of education innovation driven by free market competition.

In other words, free market competition works not only in the economy, but in public education too.