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Privatization: a solution to LRSD woes.

Privatization: A Solution To LRSD Woes

Support for the Little Rock public schools by the business community has been an article of faith since the debacle of 1957. But I am beginning to wonder if we were wrong.

While East Europeans have been abandoning their inefficient, state owned monopolies, we in Central Arkansas have been pouring more and more money into ours. As Peter Brimelow said recently in Forbes, "You don't fix a car that isn't running properly by pumping more gasoline into the tank." Perhaps we need an entirely new mode of transportation.

Comparing The Costs

Private schools in Central Arkansas often provide good education at a fraction of the costs of public schools. Pulaski County will spend $3,125 per pupil this year, while Pulaski Academy will educate your child for $2,675. Little Rock will spend $3,606 per pupil, while Father Tribou at Catholic High will take your non-Catholic son for $1,710.

Private schools don't pay as much, have less administrative staff and in the case of Catholic High, have nuns and priests who work for slave wages. Nevertheless, if we issued vouchers worth $3,000 each to Arkansas students which could be redeemed at any public or private school, this flood of educational buying power would spark an explosion in educational creativity and innovation that few states have seen.

The idea that vouchers would disadvantage kids from Highland Court is a myth. They could attend Pulaski Academy and use the difference between their tuition cost and voucher amount for bus fare. When we make it possible for blacks to attend Pulaski Academy in numbers, you'll know we've truly integrated.

Punishing The Poor

As it stands now they are the only ones locked into the public schools. Our public education system is resegregating affluent white students into Bryant, Cabot, Conway, Catholic High, Pulaski Academy and a plethora of conservative church-based schools.

In Kansas City, black parents have brought suit to force the district to issue vouchers so that inner-city residents will have access to private schools. Private schools there have promised blacks 4,000 openings if they are successful.

Urban public schools in America are about as broke as a Polish shipyard and operate with about the same level of efficiency and local control. Costs are up and SAT scores are flat even as class sizes have declined.

In 1950, teachers represented 70 percent of the adults in the public schools. Today they are 53 percent and their salaries have dropped from 56 percent of total expenditures to only 40.4 percent. More bureaucracy, higher costs and lowered performance are plaguing a system that is at its root flawed.

Tougher Standards

Interestingly a recent study by Dr. James Coleman of the University of Chicago compared private Catholic high schools to public high schools and found that the parochial students do better as a group because the Catholic schools have higher math and English requirements.

The tougher standards stick because they are supported by the parents whose shared religious values have created a strong sense of community. "Thirty years ago strong community ties backed up the public high schools, as well," said Coleman. "They had many of the same benefits Catholic schools have today. Catholic high schools of the '80s function much like public high schools of the '50s."

As a public school supporter, I was always mildly contemptous of people who sent their kids to private schools. But maybe it was like considering someone unpatriotic for using Federal Express instead of the post office.

A "clean" voucher system with a minimum of strings attached would bring the same system of punishment and reward to the education field that exist in most other industries in Arkansas.

I have always associated private schools with old segs, west Little Rock elitists and Bible-beating Baptists. But bringing education into the free market does not necessarily mean putting it into a social straight jacket. To the contrary, vouchers would probably spark a happy chaos of creativity and diversity.
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Title Annotation:Little Rock School District
Author:Leveritt, Alan
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 2, 1990
Previous Article:Bullish indicators.
Next Article:Honor among debtors: justice and morality sometimes clash when businessmen hit bankruptcy court.

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