Last week the subject of how money is spent in education was addressed here. The progressive solution is to just keep spending more money and that will fix everything. Perhaps there are other viable solutions though, ones that save money instead of requiring more, and more, and more.
There’s a solution provided by those on the right, the conservatives, and it is called choice. Represented by the idea of vouchers or scholarships, it is the premise of inviting competition into the educational realm. When public schools are all that is available to a student, the quality of education they receive is limited. That public school may be the best available, or the worse, but it’s their only choice. Inviting free market principles into education would raise the bar for all students. As President Reagan once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Let’s look at applying basic free market principles to the education system. Currently, a student is assigned to a school based on where they live, and they are subjected to that standard of education until they graduate, for better or worse. In your mind, you can instantly think of public schools with better reputations than others.
With government control, there is also favoritism. In Buncombe County there are districts with newer schools, gyms, playing fields, and more technology than other districts. Many people who move into the area pick where they live based on these factors of the public schools. Which ones are known for better education, nicer facilities, etc.
Due to districting though, even if everyone were able to move into a certain school district or two, the county would need to redistrict to control school populations. There would always be students in bad schools. Furthermore, the poor, without the ability to move or pick where they lived, would always be subjected to the worse schools. Actually, it’s not “would”, but rather “are”. This is the current situation in North Carolina.
Insert now the conservative idea of school vouchers. Now every taxpayer has the ability to attend any school of their choice: public, charter, or private. In order to maintain their populations, schools must then make themselves attractive to perspective students. Instead of automatically receiving students and funding, they must then work for it and produce a product worth buying: a quality education. By making all schools compete, even the worst schools will be better off. If a poor student has to attend the closest school, at least it will be better because all standards of education will rise with competition.
Now that the basic free market ideals have been applied, let’s look at the cost associated with it. Last week it was brought up that K-12 education in North Carolina cost about $9,000 per student. Studies of North Carolina’s alternatives to public education cost between $5,000 for elementary school and $6,000 for high school. Perhaps just stating the obvious at this point, but competition could save up to $4,000 per student, per year. With millions of children in grade school, that’s a huge chunk. Furthermore, it goes directly against the progressive argument of more money, and actually saves money.
Another area in which vouchers save money is with those families currently sending their children outside of the public education system. Some believe that only the rich send their kids to private schools, but many middle class families work very hard to send their children to alternative schools. In Buncombe County, 20% send their children to places other than public schools, while that number is 16% in Henderson County. That’s right, around one in five kids are not in public schools. However, their parents still foot the bill for public schools. These children’s parents pay around $5,000 per year for them to attend school, while also paying taxes towards that $9,000 per year. Creating a voucher system would take the extra burden off of those hard working families and put more money back in the economy.
A study conducted by the John Locke Foundation found that with increased school choice, there was not always a correlation with market share. In fact, more choice often led to higher public school enrollment. The idea that choice strips the core of public education is an unfounded argument. What it does mean though, is that competition is healthy, and should be welcomed in all areas. If public schools are better than private schools, then there is nothing for them to fear, right?
The John Locke Study closed with this, “The purpose of school choice is not to ensure that all children attend a private, charter, or home school. Most proponents of school choice have little interest in dismantling public schools or privatizing primary and secondary education. Rather, they envision a system of school choice that ensures that all families have the capacity and means to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their children regardless of provider.”
Shouldn’t that be the goal of everyone in regards to the education of our future?