A few days ago, I wrote about how hearing Sal Khan’s talk as part of the LinkedIn Speaker series gave me an idea for how to take the Khan Academy to the next level. In this post, I’ll talk about an idea that was inspired by another speaker at LinkedIn, Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org. If you haven’t heard of DonorsChoose, here’s the basic idea: public school teachers from all over the country post requests for classroom projects that need funding; visitors to the site can then pick the schools/teachers/projects they wish to support and donate money to them.
A mixed bag
DonorsChoose is a great idea that has raised $85 million and helped over 5 million students. I honestly can’t think of a more important cause than education: year after year, in study after study, US students lag behind most other industrialized nations. Lack of funding undoubtedly plays a big role in this, so it’s great to see DonorsChoose making some headway in this area.
Having said that, the fact that teachers need donations to do their job and that—with all due respect to the wonderful work of Charles Best—DonorsChoose has to exist at all, is downright disturbing. Think about it for a minute: the future of this country depends entirely on having a well educated population; what kind of future can we have if teachers must beg for money just to be able to do their jobs?
What if taxpayers could choose?
Part of the problem is that the average person has little say in how their tax dollars are spent. For example, when is the last time you saw a military general begging for money? In fact, the US spends more money on its military than the next 10 countries combined; the air conditioning budget for Iraq and Afghanistan alone is more than NASA’s entire budget.
What if we allowed people to choose where their taxes went? Imagine a new section in your tax returns or even a government website where, if you wanted to, you could specify exactly which programs your tax dollars should go to. To be realistic, you’d probably only be allowed to control a relatively small percentage of your tax dollars, since a direct democracy at the 300 million person scale would never work.
Still, I have to wonder: would the US public choose to spend nearly as much money on the military? Would we allow our teachers to make significantly less money than other professions that require similar training and education? Would we have cut NASA’s budget?
What would you choose?