People like to debate whether private enterprise is more efficient than government at a given task. This week's election results give us an example of why that is so often the case.
In private enterprise, if a business is failing, it will fail to attract investment capital. It will likely fail and be replaced by some other, more efficient company.
In government, if a program is failing, it attracts more investment capital.
It will likely continue to fail, sucking in more and more funding. Often, it will become a bastion of con-artists and sharks, who seek to get that money through carefully scripted appeals. These work because the government officials don't actually care whether the program is successful. They would rather get that next campaign contribution and play into the script so voters think they're doing something.
So it is with the Oakland Unified School District. OUSD would unquestionably rank as one of the worst school districts in the country, were there USNews rankings for such a thing. Oakland residents passed Measure G this week, ensuring the district $20M per year as a "thank you" for what will surely be continued failure.
The reasons for OUSD's performance are well documented and have nothing to do with underfunding. The school system performs poorly because middle-class-and-above parents largely send their kids to private schools. Same goes for all parents with gifted kids. The bottom line is OUSD is stuck with the lowest-performing kids.
This problem has to do with demographics and policies. We can't change demographics, so the right thing to do there is simply to accept the situation and compare OUSD to other similarly-situated districts.
Policies, however, can be changed to bring higher-performing kids back into the school system. Having smart kids in the public schools is good for everyone, as it can help change attitudes and role models for all kids.
Getting there requires a commitment by the school district to serving all Oakland residents, not just those in the lower-income areas. We need magnet schools. We need programs to remove kids who are either disruptive or violent. We need vocational programs to provide more appropriate education to kids who don't plan on going to college.
If OUSD won't make these kinds of changes, Oakland residents should get behind vouchers. At least then our kids would have real options for using the money.