Lack of Imagination

One of the things I struggle with in arguing for ending the government schools monopoly is a lack of imagination.  In most people's lifetimes, there has never been a robust network of private school options to fit all needs and budgets, so folks assume that that such choices can't exist -- that there is some structural failure of capitalism that would prevent these choices from existing rather than structural government factors that have prevented them from existing.

Don Boudreaux has a nice analogy that helps make the logic of school choice clearer.


  1. DrTorch:

    Don't forget homeschooling among the choices.

  2. sch:

    There is a lawsuit in Alabama currently to the effect that school taxes in many counties are at the absolute minimum
    unfairly penalizing the local schools which are supported almost completely by the state portion of education funding.
    The major and mostly unacknowledged but known reason for this is desegration 30-50 yrs ago. The combining of black
    and white school systems resulted in the establishment of large numbers of 'christian' or other private schools to
    which whites that could afford it fled, leaving the public system in these counties variably black. Users of the
    private schools didn't want to pay twice for education so property taxes, the main support for education, were kept
    low. Property taxes at the highest levels approximate 1% of the assessed value in a few systems (mostly upper middle
    class) and more typically in the 0.3-0.5% range. The minimum mentioned above is 0.2%, up from 0.1% til about 10yrs
    ago. Be interesting to see where this will go.

  3. Stephen:

    Very interesting thought experiment, that. I like it. But I'm not sure that primary education is exactly comparable to a commodity purchase. There's so much to learn that it (probably, at least at first glance) requires a long term commitment in one place to do effectively, rather than disruptively popping around from place to place to find the best bargain for each subject. Adults, with the primary education bases covered, can certainly pick and choose what to learn where and when--e.g., studying a foreign language in a community college continuing education class, or picking up a programming language book of their choice at the bookstore, or joining a martial arts school, or anything else.

    Of course, schooling doesn't *have* to be done institutionally, as evidenced by homeschooling successes. But there are economies of scale when done institutionally. Perhaps we've scaled up too far to be effective, optimizing for some factors at the expense of others. Perhaps we would do better with more, smaller schools. Perhaps we could have specialized smaller schools in various subjects, such that parents could more easily pick the ones they wanted to use, instead of cramming all subjects under one roof. *Or* perhaps we could get the best of both worlds by separating the administration of the large, collective facilities from the educating, like a mall with tenants, with competition between the teachers of a given subject. But still the practicality of picking classes/teachers between different facilities would be doubtful, at least during the same school year. Scheduling and transportation could be a nightmare.

    All of that has assumed that we would have one (main) agreed-to system, as we do now. Even more diversity and flexibility is possible if we remove that assumption. But ... that's when politics comes in. People will be screaming bloody murder about unequal opportunities, going backwards, etc. We've seen that already here in Wake Co., NC, where the new majority on the school board is trying to move toward neighborhood schools from busing kids all over the county. As with all entitlement programs, undoing the current system, even for something better, is nearly impossible with so many vested interests among the factions. And we really do value equal opportunity, reasonable and verifiable standards of quality, etc., and don't want to hurt any of the kids. It is indeed a quandary. And, as you say, it's government--or more specifically, politics--which prevents us from actually finding a better way.

  4. Vitaeus:

    Property taxes provide nothing that could not be provided at the service leve by private action, there is likely a place for effective oversight by "government", but do we really need to pay the salaries of the ABC store clerk ( WA resident), or even the retirement of ANYONE? Plus if property taxes were reduced to a level consistent with simple oversight they would be low enough that it is unlikely anyone with the ability to actually pay off a house would have trouble maintaining the payment in perpetuity.

  5. Bob Smith:

    There has indeed been a failure, but not of capitalism. Public schools use four primary means to squash private competition:

    1) curriculum regulation
    2) instructor licensing
    3a) Taxation #1. After paying property taxes most people have no money left over to pay for a private school. A good voucher system would solve this problem.
    3b) Taxation #2. Private schools have to pay substantial property taxes, in effect subsidizing their competition and making their product unnecessarily expensive.
    4) Zoning. This is one of the least talked about means of control. Typically, zoning regulations act to make private schools either functionally impossible (there being no permitted areas where you'd want to build a school) or prohibitively expensive (the cost of complying with zoning, including permits, legal fees, etc). Since the city/county exempts itself from these regulations, public schools don't have these obstacles.

  6. g scale model trains:

    Great thought about the government schools monopoly, this action will caught their attention and will make them become more aware to do their duties and responsibilities to us parents and to their student. The school officials are the head and brain of every school and how the school will be successful is according to them on how they perform their duties. I’m sure our respected schools officials will make an immediate action to solve this matter.

  7. me:

    Perhaps we should check our spelling and grammar while commenting on an article about schools.

  8. caseyboy:

    I sent both of my children to Catholic schools (K-12). Although I paid high property taxes (WI & then MA) I was okay paying the tuition because I felt the overall experience would be healthier. One of the things I took great comfort in was knowing that the parents of the other students also sacrificed to have their children attend.

    If you are going to pay extra money to have your children educated you are more likely to pay attention to the results. Parent/teacher conferences were always well attended as were most school functions geared toward parents.

  9. jt:

    No example of a mostly-private school network? How about our whole *very diverse* universe of college-level schools, most of which are private?

    Of course, we know that families of high school kids are too dumb and irresponsible to handle decisions about school choices--until their kids reach senior year, when suddenly everyone gets smart enough to figure out all the tradeoffs.