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Ken Rechtin's Another Voice: Can You Defend the Number of School Districts Here?

During my 21 years elected public services, nine as a Newport Commissioner and twelve as a Campbell County Commissioner, I learned that there are two types of issues that will bring the public out in force to voice their opinions at a meeting:

  1. Anything that affects private property rights, values and uses (like land use or property values)
  2. Anything that touches upon their child (like sports, education, school start times, busing, education testing, or the location of a school)

The issue of public schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky does double duty. The quality, funding, and location of schools effect both property value and their child’s education. If you question whether school districts influence property value, just compare PVA values and tax rates in Covington to Fort Mitchell or Newport to Fort Thomas.

In my last column I challenged the constitutionality of the Kentucky Common School System.

That column brought out some dissenting comments from those who felt that I was attacking the Independent School Districts in NKY and advocating their merger. There were also comments that I was attempting to make political hay and advance my political future. In fact, I have been warned by city and school board elected officials that this column dooms any political future that I might imagine!

But, here we go anyway!

I do not profess to know the definitive answer to the inefficiency of the common school system in Kentucky. I do not present a consolidation plan or a plan for merger.

But, here is what I do know:

There must be a better way! No one, given a clean sheet of paper, tasked with the goal of creating an efficient common school system throughout the Commonwealth, would come up with the current structures.

No one, not one reader, has come to the defense of the current system of 173 school districts! No one has argued that the current system is efficient.

So, as promised in the previous column, here is one suggestion on how to make the school district system more efficient:

Introduce competition into the system.

Competition demands efficiency! In the private business arena, if a business does not have a competitor, the unregulated business monopoly becomes lax and complacent. The owners begin to take their customers for granted.

Since there is no competitor offering better or less expensive goods or services, the price begins to climb. When this happens in business, other business people become interested in that market and enter it. This new competition forces the once monopolistic business to either become more efficient or provide better services or leave the business entirely.

How does this apply to the Kentucky Common School system? Our current system is monopolistic. Each one of the districts does not have a public school competitor within their geographic area. Instead they are given an exclusive franchise for public schooling within their taxing district. Since they do not have a competitor (they are the only game in town) which would drive efficiency and quality, they have become complacent!

Competition would provide choice to the consumer (AKA parent). The school district would need to respond to the customer and provide a competitive product.

First, just for the sake of argument, let’s take school district student capacity and school busing out of the equation. What if the General Assembly mandated that the “education” tax money “follow the student” to whatever public school district is chosen by the student’s parents? School districts would then need to compete for the student. Parents could and would choose the district that delivered the best education opportunity for their child regardless of geography.

Those school districts that did not provide a quality product for a reasonable cost would suffer the consequences of declining enrollment and decreasing revenues. The result would be for the district to improve or go out of business!

Matt Bevin, Republican nominee for Kentucky Governor, has taken a very interesting position on the issue of public education. He has said, “Parents should be empowered to make the basic choices for their children’s education and be given the right to decide how their children’s education dollars should be used, whether toward a public school, charter school, private school, or a home school.”

Bevin has also indicated that he supports charter schools, saying, “Kentucky should adopt policies that allow counties to fund (and local educators and parents to establish), public charter schools that cater to the particular needs of each community. Burdensome regulations that get in the way of charter schools should be eliminated. Until such time as all the education dollars follow the child, families who choose to home school their children should have access to the same public amenities provided to children who attend state­funded schools.”

Matt Bevin’s position of “all education dollars following the child” would indicate that even the local districts dollars, which are mostly derived from property taxes within that district, would follow the choice of the parents to the chosen district. Differing form some others espousing this “competition” remedy to our inefficient school system, Mr. Bevin includes public schools, charter schools, home schools, and private schools in his proposal as well!

Tell me what you think of this alternative!

I am sure that there are many more ways to improve efficiency. In the next column, I will explore another alternative which would rely heavily on the Kentucky Department of Education.

If you believe the current system of 173 school districts is efficient, please tell me how and why you believe that!

Or, if agree with me that the system is unconstitutional, tell me how the General Assembly might fix it!

Finally, what if the General Assembly continues to ignore the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky? Then, maybe again, a lawsuit similar to Rose v. Council for Better Education must be brought for failing to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The views and opinions expressed here in “Another Voice” do not reflect the views or opinions of The River City News, its owners, writers, or editors. These are solely the ideas of Ken Rechtin. If you wish to make comment to Another Voice, Ken can be reached via email at [email protected] or you may leave a comment here. All rights to use of Another Voice in any fashion are retained by Ken Rechtin. Please contact him for any use of his columns.