Can we ever truly be free if the government controls
where we educate our children, who teaches them,
what they are taught and how they are taught?
For a supposedly free society, the education apparatus in Ohio and in the United States is surprisingly inflexible, especially for poor and middle income families who don’t have the ability to pay tuition for a private education. Consider that most students are assigned to their school based on the location of their parent’s home. If you can’t afford a home in a more affluent neighborhood, you are pretty much stuck with whatever the state, through your local district and school, offers you and increasingly, what the state offers kids, particularly kids in the big 8 urban school district, isn’t going to be enough to allow them to escape from the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
If you can’t afford a home in a more affluent neighborhood, you are pretty much stuck with whatever the state, through your local district and school, offers...
For example, let’s say someone lives in the Cleveland Municipal School District. On their last report card, Cleveland had failed their students in most report card categories, earning an “F” grade for achievement, for progress and for preparing students for success after high school1. If you happy to live in the boundaries of the Cleveland Municipal School District, your 5 year old is going to start kindergarten facing the huge headwind of a school district with a decades long history of failure, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It’s certainly possible that your child might rise above and succeed, but the odds are overwhelmingly against them. That’s not freedom. We can do better.
No other aspect of American society works this way.
The New York Times Magazine ran a piece in 19752 dramatizing what would happen if food distribution, just to name one American Institution, worked like public education. The food would be paid for by taxes and distributed by government run stores. Each family would be assigned a store based on location. Each family would get a collection of foods. If your assigned store didn’t have the foods you wanted, you were out of luck unless you could afford to go to a private food store. If your assigned store was badly run and if the workers didn’t care enough to keep the shelves stocked, you were out of luck. Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it, yet, this is exactly how we run public education in the United States!
In the 46 years since this was written, we’ve seen an explosion in food choice. There are supermarkets everywhere with a dazzling and ever-increasing array of products. There are specialty food stores offering anything you can imagine. Food stores, thanks to the magic of competition in the free market, offer free pickup service so you don’t even have to go into the store. Meanwhile, back in the world of public education, there has been precious little innovation. Schools pretty much work like they did when you were a kid.
Most people think educational freedom
is just about allowing people to exit
from failing school districts.
Most people think that educational freedom is just about allowing people to exit from failing school districts. That’s an important part of it to be sure, but that’s far from the only benefit. It is simply illogical to assume that the very bestplacement for all of Ohio’s 1.67 million schoolchild is, by some happy coincidence, the school around the block. As a society, we should strive to make the school fit the kid rather than trying to shoehorn every kid into a program that might not be the best fit.
SO HOW MIGHT EDUCATIONAL
There are many, many models. Some prefer a backpack approach where you get to spend whatever your local school tax is on whatever school you want. That obviously leaves out the majority of taxpayers who don’t have a kid in the schools. Some prefer a voucher approach or an education tax credit. Both of these tend to put the government in charge of who can use them (for example, in Ohio, some programs require your local school district to be “failing”, which is missing the whole point). True educational freedom would allow parents to place their child in what the feel is the most appropriate setting, regardless of circumstances. For some parents, that might include a religious component. For others, that might be a school specializing in the arts, or the sciences, or math, or experiential education. Once you open education up to the free market, the opportunities for children will grow exponentially. How will all this be funded?
Consider that Ohio spends about 20,000,000,000 (Twenty Billion) dollars a year3 to educate around 16 million kids4 .
Consider that Ohio spends about 20,000,000,000 (Twenty Billion) dollars a year3 to educate around 16 million kids4 . That works out to an average of around 12,000 dollars per kid per year, and those figures do not include the capital costs of the physical buildings. A class of 10 kids, a very low enrollment by today’s standards, would be worth $120,000. The teacher might make $80,000. That leaves $40,000 for overhead. The numbers would seem to suggest that financially, educational freedom is within our grasp.
To be sure, educational freedom does not mean complete anarchy. There are basic competencies which all educational institutions are going to have to conform with – reading, writing, math and so forth. The privatization of education does not mean the abandonment of all education regulations and every institution receiving taxpayer dollars should be licensed. In order for parents to make the best choices, those institutions need to be transparent with regard to results, finances, demographics, programming and a myriad of other details about their programs. When you go to buy a car, there are volumes of data available for you to make your selection. You should expect nothing less from educational institutions seeking your business. As the saying goes, competition works every time it’s tried. Maybe it’s time we try competition in education.
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