With the entire nation watching, Wisconsinites are now debating whether the state's public school teachers ought to be required to pay 5.8 percent of their wages to support their own retirement plans and 12.6 percent of their own health-insurance premiums, and also whether their union ought to be able to negotiate a pay increase on their behalf that exceeds the rate of inflation without letting voters approve or disapprove that raise in a referendum.
What Wisconsin ought to be debating is whether these public school teachers should keep their jobs at all.
Then every state ought to follow Wisconsin in the same debate.
It is time to drive public schools out of business by driving them into an open marketplace where they must directly compete with schools not run by the government or staffed by members of parasitic public employees' unions.
The well-documented incompetence of America's public schools -- including Wisconsin's -- is damaging our nation. Their educational product is simply not good enough for our children. In some cases, it is toxic.
According to data collected and published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Wisconsin's public schools have been consuming more and more tax dollars over the years while doing a consistently miserable job educating children in the basics of reading and math.
Nor are Wisconsin's public schools unusual.
In fiscal 1998, according to the NCES, Wisconsin spent $7,123 per pupil in its public primary and secondary schools. In the Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test that year, Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored an average of 266 out of a possible 500. As a result of that test, only 33 percent of Wisconsin's public school eighth-graders earned a rating of "proficient" or better in reading.
By 2008, Wisconsin was spending $10,791 per pupil in its public primary and secondary schools. Yet, in the 2009 NAEP reading test, Wisconsin public school eighth-graders again scored an average of only 266 out of a possible 500. Only 34 percent earned a rating of "proficient" or better in reading.
When the $7,123 per pupil Wisconsin spent in its public schools in 1998 is adjusted for inflation, it equals $9,408 in 2008 dollars. Thus, even though Wisconsin increased per pupil spending by $1,383 dollars from 1998 to 2008 (from $9,408 to $10,791), it did not gain a single point on its average eighth-grade reading score.
Wisconsin had similar results in math. In 1996, the state's public school eighth-graders scored an average of 283 out of 500 in math. In 2008, they scored an average of 288 out of 500 -- or 1 percent higher than in 1996.
As bad as they are, Wisconsin's tests scores are slightly better than the national average for public-school students.
In 1998, American public school eighth-graders averaged 261 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test. In 2009, they averaged 262 out of 500. In 1996, they averaged 271 out of 500 on the NAEP math test. In 2009, they averaged 282.
In 2009, only 30 percent of American public school eighth-graders earned a rating of "proficient" or better in reading. Only 32 percent earned a rating of "proficient" or better in math.
This ignorance did not come cheap. Nationwide, according to the NCES, public schools spent $10,297 per pupil in fiscal 2008.
Does anybody do better with less money? Yes.
In 2009, the eighth-graders in Catholic schools averaged 281 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test -- 19 points higher than the average American public school eighth-grader and 15 points higher than the average eighth-grader in a Wisconsin public schools. On the math test, eighth-graders in Catholic schools averaged 297 out of 500, compared to an average of 282 for eighth-graders in public schools nationwide and 288 for public school eighth-graders in Wisconsin.
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, as noted on the archdiocese's website, Catholic elementary school tuitions range from $900 per child at St. Adalberts in Milwaukee to the $5,105 for a non-parishioner child at St. Alphonsus in Greenhdale.
In addition to being less expensive and better than public schools at teaching math and reading, Catholic schools -- like any private schools -- can also teach students that there is a God, that the Ten Commandments are true and must be followed, that the Founding Fathers believed in both and that, ultimately, American freedom depends on fidelity to our Judeo-Christian heritage even more than it depends on proficiency in reading and math.
What every state in the union ought to do is take a look at the public school teachers protesting in Wisconsin, take a look at the test scores for the nation's public school students, take a look at the $10,000 per year it typically takes to keep a child in a public school and pass new laws with three simple provisions: 1) every parent of every child in every school district in the state shall receive an annual voucher equal to the per-pupil cost of maintaining a child in the state's public schools, 2) they shall be entitled to redeem this voucher at any school they like, and 2) the state shall not regulate the private schools, period.
Let American parents decide who will be their partners in forming the hearts and minds of their children.