Vouchers are a Free Market Solution for Fixing Public Education

Although we have been conditioned to believe public school is a different animal, free markets work for education too. In America, universities compete for scholarship, grant, and tuition dollars. Consumers, not colleges, determine where those education dollars are ultimately going to be spent. Unlike our centrally planned and taxpayer funded public school system where we contindownloadue to lose  in ranking to other countries , America’s university system is considered the best in the world.  Over the last 150 years we have experimented with government controlled school monopolies, and they have proven to be expensive, overly bureaucratic, and inefficient.  It is time we consider free market solutions to solve the problems that are inherent to our current public education system.

Treating education as an entitlement tends to destroy education’s value in the minds of its recipients.  According to the law of diminishing marginal utility, as a person increases consumption of a product (i.e. education) while keeping consumption of other products constant, there is a decline in the marginal utility (value)  that person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product. What this means is, the more we have of something the less we value the portions we possess above what we really want.

Let’s use the “all-you-can-eat” buffet style restaurant as an example.   These restaurants entice us with “all you can eat,” while knowing each additional plate of food provides less utility to us than the one before. Despite their enticement, most people will eat only until the utility they derive from additional food is slightly lower than the original. For example, say you go to a buffet and the first plate of food you eat is very good. On a scale of ten you would give it a ten. Now your hunger has been somewhat tamed, but you get another full plate of food. Since you’re not as hungry, your enjoyment rates a seven at best. Most people would stop before their utility drops even more, but say you go back to eat a third full plate of food and your utility drops even more to a three. If you kept eating, you would eventually reach a point of total dissatisfaction, or ‘dis-utility.” In education, the first plate of food is learning to read and write, as well as basic math. Beyond the basics, most families don’t value additional education. While this is a bold statement, public school student appreciation for education drops off dramatically with mastery of the basics, and parental disinterest in post- elementary school teacher conferences confirms this reality. Whereas restaurant food bills are normally paid by the people eating the food, such is not the case for public education. Instead, the bill is usually paid by someone else. This lack of “skin in the game” by the consumers of public education further diminishes the value people have for it.

Realizing tax payer funded education is susceptible to the law of diminishing marginal utility, I prefer a policy where citizens are not forced to pay for the education of students who don’t value it.  Instead, I support eliminating public education entirely and allowing the natural order  to inspire families to pursue the education they deem appropriate for their children. It is wasteful to spend money on citizens who don’t value education, but it is wise to let families invest the money they normally pay in taxes towards education opportunities that already exist in the free market. Public education in the 21st century is like bottled water: an unnecessary expense when quality education is readily available in so many other places at much lower costs. Online academies, home-school curriculums, and most private schools are much less expensive, usually more successful in equipping students for the 21st century, and far less controversial than public schools. If education wasn’t a government provided entitlement, the free market would quickly provide the education resources necessary for citizens to function in the 21st century.

Evidence suggests that under a policy where tax payers aren’t forced to pay for the education of their neighbor’s children, poor families would also have access to quality education through patronage. At Whitefish Christian Academy (where I served as board president for many years), many struggling families who value education (and ensure their children work hard in class) have received tuition assistance necessary for their children to attend. Financially successful people in our community continually demonstrate their willingness to partner with hard working families and students who value education, like they do. In spite of the efforts of public school monopoly advocates to paint successful Americans as inherently selfish, I suspect most communities possess citizens as generous as mine, particularly if they are freed of the burden of paying for public education. Community rejections of school bond issues are usually indictments against the inefficiencies of public school bureaucracies rather than denials of education’s societal value.

The inequality created by America’s monopolistic public scho91rupasyk1l-_sl1500_ol system is apt to become our most pressing civil rights issue. Popular documentaries like, “Waiting for Superman,” and “The Cartel,” demonstrate that inner city communities value education as much as any other. They also reveal that public school monopolies are rejected as vehemently in poor minority neighborhoods as they are in affluent, predominantly white ones. Teacher protests in Wisconsin and
New Jersey have exposed government policies that favor teachers and school administrators over tax payers and children, and the appointment of
alternative education advocate Betsy DeVos as America’s newest education secretary signals that parents and students are demanding something better. The only thing blocking them from receiving a decent education in their neighborhoods is a government protected, public school monopoly.

Even though privatizing education is the most efficient way to improve education, I realize America isn’t ready for the idea of jettisoning taxpayer funded education altogether; therefore, I support a voucher system where each child is entitled to a set dollar amount of education paid for with a voucher. Under such a program, each family is free to choose where their vouchers will be spent. Families may choose to home school, enroll their children in private, parochial or droppingbrpublic school, or use the money to hire private tutors. In order to continue receiving funds, I support the requirement that students demonstrate grade level proficiency in order to continue using funds for anything besides public school.

Free market competition in public education will improve it immediately. For communities that lack the courage to do away with public education entirely, the voucher system is the most viable method for introducing free market competition into public education. Because both poor and wealthy communities have voiced strong desires for school choice and equally loud impatience with public school costs and inefficiencies, vouchers are now politically viable.  Free markets have proven effective in providing the highest quality of goods and services at the lowest prices to the greatest number of people; therefore, I support the idea of a voucher system that promotes education choice.

Socialism and Crony Capitalism

Socialism-FailsIn my political science classes in college, I learned that a socialist system is characterized by a strong central government that commands and controls the economy.  For an economy to be considered socialist, the means of production only needs to be controlled (but not necessarily owned) by a government.  In a socialist economy, bureaucrats set wages, control prices, create quotas, and regulate distribution.  Buying and selling behavior is manipulated by central planners using tax preferences and disincentives.

Socialism is different from “free market” capitalism.  In a truly free market economy, citizens—not government bureaucrats—make the majority of economic decisions.  Individuals rather than the government determine prices, wages, levels of production, and distribution methods.  Free market economies rely on prices to be analog signals to indicate the accurate supply and demand for specific goods and services.  When supplies are low, demand pushes prices up and producers are motivated to produce more, which pushes down demand, which lowers prices, etc. What differentiates a socialist economy from a free market economy is centralized command and control or the absence of it.

When politics get involved, the proper definitions of economic terms can get confusing.  While Democrats appear to prefer a centrally planned socialist system, and Republicans appear to prefer a free market capitalist system, history has shown both parties prefer the economic system known as “crony capitalism.”

Crony capitalism is an economic system where individuals, acting through corporate entities, partner with a strong centralized government in order to enjoy the safety and profitability of a monopoly.  Crony capitalism is NOT free market capitalism, but instead is more closely aligned with socialism.  Unlike free market capitalism, crony capitalism doesn’t mind bureaucracy, government regulation, or high taxes because the crony corporations are usually exempt by government decree.  By picking and choosing winners and losers, strong central governments ensure their crony corporate partners have no real competition.  Whereas the theoretical purpose of government involvement in a socialist economy is to ensure the fair and equal distribution of goods and services, crony capitalism uses government power to keep out competition and increase profits for the crony corporations.

All name-calling aside, it is difficult for me to align with either the Democrat or Republican Party.  I prefer a free market economy with minimal government involvement in the marketplace; however, both parties continue to press for more government intervention.  While not perfect, free markets are responsible for the incredible prosperity we have enjoyed. Any political movement towards greater centralized government control will diminish our chances for future economic flourishing.