Sunday, September 23, 2007

School Choice

Political progressives support government-run public schooling despite its enormous failures of waste, fraud and abuse. Political conservatives support fully dismantling public schooling in favor of private and home-school options.

Both the liberal and the conservative solutions to the American education crisis seek to tell other people what they can and cannot do; that is, to prescribe and limit choices. They offer either government-run monopoly and union control or abrupt abandonment to the free market and busy, overworked (and even indifferent, psychotic or religionist) parents.

One the one hand, you have coercive and unaccountable institutions based on the model of socialism -- which is unsustainable. On the other, you throw parents back on their own resources to find, fund and monitor appropriate alternatives -- easy for the rich, very hard for the poor.

The libertarian solution is to offer parents more choices, not force them into fewer; that is, to maximize liberty. School choice, or vouchers, is an idea long-championed by libertarian economist Milton Friedman (1912–2006):

"For many years [Friedman] argued that parents should be given more choice in how and where their children are schooled. The government, he said, should not spend money on their behalf, but should give them vouchers that they could spend on the education they thought best. Competition between schools would do more than any amount of bureaucratic direction to raise the often woeful standards of American primary and secondary education. This newspaper has long subscribed wholeheartedly to the idea of school vouchers. They are making headway, but too slowly, blocked by the teachers' unions (when did state-protected producers ever embrace competition?) and sometimes in court." -- The Economist

Vouchers allow parents to choose whether they send their children to public schools, private schools or home schools -- or possibly, some hybrid.

It creates and promotes the natural and beneficial condition of competition in the educational marketplace. Institutions and practices that perform well and excel will be rewarded by patronage. Both public and private institution would be compelled to raise their standards and cater to the market and a wider variety of superior schooling options would become available. This is good for parents and this is good for children.

When it comes to giving our children quality education, failure is not an option.

"School vouchers, or government-funded tuition payments, direct money that would otherwise have funded a public school education to a school that the student's family has chosen, whether private or parochial."

"Voucher programs serve a range of individuals. Some programs, such as those in Milwaukee and Cleveland, give priority to students from low-income families. Florida offers vouchers to special education students and to those who attend failing public schools. In Vermont and Maine, towns that don't have high schools provide vouchers to their residents."

"Like tax credits, vouchers promote competition among schools, improving performance. They encourage the creation of new private schools that cater to voucher recipients. Public schools also respond positively to increased competition from private schools by trimming bureaucracy, improving programs, and strengthening curricula."

"Voucher programs make schools, whether public or private, accountable to parents. When families have the power to remove children from schools that aren't working, administrators and teachers, at risk of losing their clients, must strive to provide the best educational experience for each child. This is a higher standard of accountability than public schools have to meet under the current system." -- Cato Institute


Education and Child Policy, Cato Institute

Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation