The simple part is the plan; the difficult part is overcoming the prejudice and inertia of the state legislature, the various unions, and the current administration. I am, however, convinced that these concepts would work and benefit Oregon students and teachers, even if it is at the expense of the other interests that typically profit from the current system.
The basic concepts of the plan are to promote: choice, efficiency and delegation of authority to the educators who are responsible for the success of the system.
Oregon has a responsibility to ensure an adequate education to every citizen. This does not mean that the state must be the direct provider. It does not matter if the state runs a school or a private group does, so long as we provide the funds and opportunity for children to receive a quality education, and the consensus is that we are successful.
With that in mind, the policy of our system should be that the funding follows every child.
Regardless of whether parents choose to place their children in a public or private institution, the funding should follow them. If our public schools are unable to compete in the face of already having first-mover advantage, the advantages of pre-existing infrastructure, the advantages of geography and a historical customer relationship, then so be it. If an institution is incapable of competing when it already has almost all of the common strategic advantages, why would we confine children to it? Who exactly are we trying to protect?
That being said, I do not expect the mass exodus some might predict. There may be some dramatic shifts that impact some specific schools, perhaps. But our state institutions will adjust until they are providing the services desired by the communities in which they are located, and their economies of scale will ultimately allow them to compete.
If our legislature lacks the fortitude required to implement the above, at the very least we should provide a 100% tax credit for all tax payers who pay for private educational expenses for their children, with a maximum limit of the amount of their taxes that would have otherwise funded public education. It is immoral to require people to pay into the system twice and this would still provide some Oregonians with additional options.
Our current system suffers from grave amounts of administrative bloat. I recommend reducing the administrative and non-teacher staff by 75% and using the excess funds to hire more teachers (loosely defined as people who spend more than 80% of their compensated time directly instructing students, providing office hour tutoring and consulting with parents/guardians). This may require substantial cuts, however, administration is ultimately overhead and does not provide as much value-add as an instructor in the classroom can.
It is my firm belief that our system would function with greater efficiency if the decision making processes were delegated lower in our organizations. It would perform better by giving local boards more power to determine the standards under which their districts would operate, and by empowering the current teachers to form their own governing structures that decide matters of curriculum and process. Districts that engage in enterprising new ideas which turn out to be successful will cross pollinate them to others. Meanwhile, a disastrous idea will not undermine the entire system, as it does when it originates from a central authority.
Our teachers understand the requirements of the students they work with on a daily basis. Our boards are closer in proximity to the communities they serve. I trust them. You should too.
Our education system does not have a funding problem. The issues are political and systemic, and additional funding would simply aggravate them – simply doing more of the same old wrong things is akin to throwing gasoline on a fire in an attempt to douse it.