According to many would-be reformers of our education system, the free market will bring innovation to education, and when consumers are empowered with choice, the best products will rise to the top. We are getting a chance to see how this works in the real world in some parts of the country. The State of Louisiana is engaged in an active experiment that allows us to see the effects of this philosophy, when schools themselves are turned into "products" on the open market. Governor Bobby Jindal has embraced the preferred policies of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Here are the actions we are seeing so far from this new direction.
The latest budget signed by Governor Jindal eliminates state funding for public libraries, cutting close to a million dollars out of their budgets.
This week a Federal judge ordered Superintendent John White to appear in a case brought by a local school district, to explain why vouchers are not guilty of shifting local public funding away from public schools and into private and parochial ones.
This latest conflict reveals the hidden agenda driven by the choice movement. The schools are being rapidly re-segregated, with the full benefit of public funds.
Diane Ravitch agrees.
The expansion of vouchers and charters will facilitate the re-segregation of the schools, he predicts.Ravitch makes an instructive factual mistake here. Anthony Cody wrote that Governor Jindal eliminated "state" funding from public libraries, not "all" fumding. Ravitch apparently equates "state" and "government", while Anthony Cody explicitly does not. More important, Ravitch and Anthony Cody simply presume the benefits of a State (government, generally) role in the education industry. Ravitch openly imputes racist motives to a parent-commenter who defends school choice.
Governor Jindal eliminated all funding for public libraries in his new budget.
Anthony Cody's blog requires subscription to Education Week. Ravitch does not. Perrhaps the comment below will appear on Ravitch's blog.
Markets and federalism institutionalize humility on the part of government policy makers. If a policy dispute turns on a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or competitive markets allow for the expression of varied tastes while the contest for control over a State-monopoly provider of a good or service must inevitably create unhappy losers (who may comprise the vast majority; imagine the outcome of a nationwide vote on the one size and style of shoes all 14-year-olds must wear. Children are not standard). If a policy dispute turns on a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services will provide more information than wil a State-monopoly enterprise. A State-monopoly provider of a good or service is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.
The arguments for State (government, generally) operation of schools do not withstand even cursory examination, and the arguments for subsidy are weak. In abstract, the education industry is a highly unlikely candidate for State (government, generally) operation. The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education industry as it currently operates. Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations: (a) As institutions displace parents in education decisionmaking, overall system performance falls, and (b) Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically-adept parents ("Well, duh!" as my students would say). Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term, and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry. Furthermore, the commonly drawn implication of the public goods argument, that society as a whole benefits from tax subsidization of public goods, contains a flaw: the State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education". Operationally, State institutions define terms (such as "school" and "education) with rules, laws, and procedures. Corporate oversight is a public good and the State itself is a corporation. Oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assumption of responsibility for the provision or subsidization of public goods transforms the free rider problem at the root of public goods analysis but does not eliminate it.
Across much of the US, State constitutions, laws, and district policies restrict parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. This policy originated in Protestant evangelism and anti-Catholic bigotry. The taxpayers' $500 billion+ per year K-12 education subsidy has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded construction and consulting contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take, at any time, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers' $12,000 per pupil-year age 6-18 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private-sector employer?
Please read James Tooley's __The Beautiful Tree__.