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Government & Politics        < Previous        Next >



Time to Stop Subsidizing 'Mediocre Monopolies'?


Q. I like the old adage, "What government subsidizes, it gets." I think that has happened with our public schools. The more taxpayers pay, and the less parents pay, the worse our schools have seemed to get. Is there anything to the idea that we should stop subsidizing education, and instead make it a fee-for-service operation, except for the very poor, of course?


You would have a following in the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation. This think tank honors the legacy of one of the most influential of the American founding fathers, John Locke. Locke believed that government had two main tasks: to protect people's private property, and to maintain order. American governmental policy makes for sunshiny days when it follows those basic tenets. But it makes for doom and gloom when it veers off, as the John Locke Foundation and many other critics of our educational system say has happened today.


The way Locke thought, the government had no business running a school system in the first place. And if that school system wasn't very good, poof! It should be gone, and the private sector should take over.


The president of the John Locke Foudation, John Hood, recently published a short, but very strong statement of where school choice stands in the U.S. that's worthy of review:


As we close out 2005, it's worth noting once again that 50 years ago, economist Milton Friedman kicked off the modern school-choice movement with the publication of an article proposing educational vouchers. Since then, the idea has gained traction, been enacted in limited form in a few jurisdictions, and debated seriously in many more.


Here is a sort of status report on school choice, by the numbers, based on data provided by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation:


• Number of states featuring tax-funded voucher plans of some kind as of 2004-05: seven.


• Number of students enrolled in these voucher plans: 49,165.


• Number of states featuring tax deductions or credits for private-education expenses as of 2004: three.


• Number of families benefiting from these tax-fairness provisions: 542,910.


• Number of states featuring tax-funded private-scholarship programs as of 2004-05: three.


• Number of families benefiting from these scholarship programs: 57,391.


• Number of high-quality, random-assignment studies of the effects of choice programs encompassing public and private schools: eight.


• Number of such studies finding significant academic benefits for students using the programs to attend private schools: eight.


• Number of such studies finding adverse consequences for public-school performance: zero.


• Number of studies finding that public schools are better than private schools in promoting tolerance, civic participation, and racial integration in classrooms and lunchrooms: zero. (Indeed, most available research suggests that private education is better at performing these tasks than public schools are, despite the fact that many critics claim school choice would create social and racial inequities and tensions.)


Let's hope that 2006 brings new hope to millions of schoolchildren in North Carolina and around the country - hope that their political leaders will get out of the way, stop subsidizing mediocre monopolies, (ed. emphasis) and let their parents choose the best educational alternative without paying the current financial penalty. It may have become a clichι in free-market circles, but it happens to be true that parental choice in education is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Wealthy families already enjoy virtually total school choice, either through paying twice or through housing mobility. The poor have no such recourse.


If we truly want to reduce gaps in educational performance, which in turn play a significant role in our greatest economic and social challenges, we must embrace the principles of individual freedom and competition that create excellence in other fields of endeavor. That means an end to monopoly, central planning, and excuses.


Homework: Read more good articles on educational freedom and other topics from John Hood of the John Locke Foundation,


By Susan Darst Williams • • Government & Politics 03 • © 2008


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