Several studies have shown that private school choice programs save taxpayers money overall and even financially benefit local school districts. The primary reason for this: on average, private school tuition levels are lower than the state per pupil funding amounts allocated to residentially-assigned public schools.
Moreover, these private school choice programs generally fund students that wouldn’t have attended a private school absent the scholarship since funding is targeted to the least-advantaged students. While these types of programs are fiscally beneficial, accepting public funds can have serious unintended long-run consequences for private schools and children.
I typically support education reforms which decrease the monopoly public schools have on public funding. As discussed in any basic economics course, even within an imperfectly competitive system, minimizing monopoly power increases competitive pressures and leads to higher quality at a lower cost. However, we must not forget the basic principle of opportunity costs. What is wrong with publicly-funding private school choice programs, and what should we do about it?
I’ve grown fonder and fonder of National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson thinks clearly and writes clearly. He is witty, ironic, linear, and persuasive in his arguments. His latest column is particularly noteworthy.
Williamson, loyal to a version of conservatism that is not particularly popular these days, criticizes the imperial presidency, which runs in striking contrast with that parsimonious idea of government dear to the American founders.
I was however a bit surprised by the following bit:
As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens.”
Private school choice programs in the United States come in four basic forms: individual tax credits, tax credit scholarships, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Voucher programs are the most well-known type of private school choice. While voucher programs are desirable for individual students and the societies in which they reside, ESAs have a few important advantages that make them more effective, according to economic theory.
Voucher and ESA Definitions
Vouchers allow families to use a fraction of their public school funding for tuition at a private school of their choice. ESAs allow families to allocate a portion of their public school funding amount to a government-authorized savings account, if they choose to opt out of their public school. ESA funds can be used for various education-related expenditures such as private school tuition and fees, online learning, tutoring, and even college costs.
Five Economic Advantages of ESAs
When I was first learning economics, I was surprised by how pro-communist many economics textbooks were. I don’t mean, of course, that any economics textbook ever said, “Communism is good.” What I mean, rather, is that textbooks were very positive relative to communism’s historical record. Indeed, many seemed deeply ignorant of actual communism, basing their assessment on second-hand information about communists’ stated intentions, plus a few anecdotes about inefficiencies. Many textbook authors were, in a phrase, communist dupes: Non-communists who believe and spread a radically overoptimistic image of communism.
At least that’s what my admittedly flawed memory says.
This homeschool year, I’m prepping my sons for the Advanced Placement tests in Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Our primary text is Cowen and Tabarrok, which includes accurately horrifying details about life under communism. But we’re also working through all the test prep books. And while skimming the Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Economics, bad textbook memories came flooding back to me. It’s mostly a normal econ text, but here’s what it tells us about communism:
Critics of the proposed policy to expand private school choice in the United States argue that the government must fund and control schooling since it is a “public good.” This may sound accurate, as we label some schools as “public” and some as “private.” Since we have public schools, schooling must be a public good, right?
The Economic Definition
However, what does “public good” even mean? A public good, according to the economic definition, must satisfy two conditions: 1.) nonrival in consumption, and 2.) non-excludable. In other words, one person consuming the good will not reduce another’s ability to consume the good, and those controlling the good are unable to exclude those that do not pay.
Schooling fails both parts of the definition.
Why Schooling Fails the Requirements
In a recent Washington Post article, author Sarah Hamaker described how many young adults no longer know how to do simple, basic skills:
Colleges and employers alike are reporting that young people can’t do life’s most basic tasks. With all of our emphasis on academics and what it takes to get into college, essential life skills such as how to do laundry, balance a checking account, or cook a meal, have been overlooked.
Hamaker goes on to give several recommendations about the types of basic skills that parents should teach at certain stages of their child’s life:
skills such as reading labels, using kitchen utensils, fending for himself, and taking care of others.
I was giving a talk at Florida Gulf Coast University the other night near Fort Myers when I noticed a flyer on the door of the lecture hall. The sign (I wish I had gotten a picture now) read: “PARENT FREE ZONE.”
Rather than schools acting in loco parentis, parents act in loco scholis (in place of the school at home), tasked with enforcing the dictates of the school.
I chuckled at first, thinking it was more of a tongue-in-cheek joke to new freshmen who were used to having their parents around. Then my stomach sank when I had the realization that it probably wasn’t a joke.
Chances are that this sign had to be put up — not because the instructors in the classroom wanted to make a joke but because they had been harassed by parents who find it necessary to involve themselves in the academic lives of their adult children.
Recently I learned that long time economist Thomas Sowell is retiring from his position as a syndicated columnist. Curious, I flipped through an archive of his many columns and stumbled on one entitled Education: Then and Now, written in early 2006.
One paragraph in particular caught my eye. Like many of the older generation, Sowell notes that the education he received in the New York Public School system of the 1940s was stellar and well-rounded, a far cry from that experienced by children enrolled in the New York Public Schools of the late twentieth century:
In recent years, a number of Americans have been awakening to the realization that today’s children are not receiving a high-quality education. The nation’s test scores in everything from reading to science are evidence of that.
But while many Americans now recognize what a good education is not, many are unsure exactly what it is.
Former New York school teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto once answered that question in his book Weapons of Mass Instruction. According to Gatto, the sign of a well-educated mind is one that can make connections and is connected to four different things: