Public School or Public Choice?

Although the elections are past, one issue that really struck home with me was the issue of private school vouchers. I have a child that will be entering the public school system soon, and I have grave concerns about the system.

You may have noted that our gubernatorial candidates this past election season didn't mention too much about the specifics of the voucher program. Both candidates basically said that they supported "Utah's children," and yet, they had very different opinions regarding the voucher program.

Following is a link to a site that addresses some criticisms and concerns over the voucher program, www.schoolchoices.org/roo/myths.htm.

Of particular interest when discussing voucher programs is that most people complain that public schools are underfunded. However, the United States spends more on education than most, if not all, other countries in the world, and yet our quality of education continues to decline. Interest groups lobby for more and more money while our schools get worse and worse.

By no means am I saying that the voucher program is a cure all, or that it doesn't come with its own problems (after all, government still has a hand in it), but I do believe it's a great step in the right direction. It would help market forces to begin to work and thus, improve the quality of education our children receive.


Nick said...

I would have to agree with Jane, the voucher is a step in the right direction. Once there is competition in education, schools will get better or they will go away. It is economics at it finest, either compete or don't be part of the market at all.

BOB said...

Private schools could be the answer to our problem regarding the declining quality of public education. A competitive market for education may cause the quality level to rise in private schools, but what about those that cannot afford the costs of these schools? Will these people be left behind without a proper education? In considering whether or not the voucher is a benefit to society, one must consider the costs that will be incurred as a result of it.

Luise said...

I disagree with the voucher idea. I work with children every day that attend public schools and I feel that if parents start pulling their children out of public school that normally couldn’t afford private schools without the vouchers the education of public schools will decline even further. The voucher will only work for inner city schools. Rural districts will receive less funding. The children will be on buses even longer. How is it possible for rural schools to employee highly qualified teachers?

Luise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Tufte said...

Full disclosure: I am not unbiased on this issue - I wrote part of the study that the legislature commissioned this past summer to explore tuition tax credits.

The post and comments are fine. With respect to Bob's question, the point of a voucher system is to allow people who can't otherwise afford private schools the choices available to their richer neighbors.

From a microeconomic standpoint, you would not design an enterprise the way our school systems are designed if you wanted funds to be spent efficiently. The closest thing to this in a textbook is the idea of a "lazy monopoly". This isn't in our book, but was probably in your principles text. The bottom line is that they end up with a poor quality product, sold at a high price, and an impression that they don't have any extra money around to improve the situation. The solution to that is competition.

That's the textbook way of thinking, which you are not under any obligation to buy into (except on my tests). But, here is a way to think about this in the real world: is there any reason why in the real world something like tuition tax credits can't be tried somewhere in the state as an experiment? There are far too many people who won't even be open minded about an experiment in this direction, and I think that tips their hand about their priorities.

Jordan said...

Dr. Tufte said:

"But, here is a way to think about this in the real world: is there any reason why in the real world something like tuition tax credits can't be tried somewhere in the state as an experiment?"

I think this would be a great idea. We've done it with enough other things. If it works, then other states will adopt it. If it doesn't, then other states will avoid that kind of policy. An experiment couldn't hurt too bad.

Dr. Tufte said...

I think the fact than an experiment won't hurt too much and that they have never been done is a sign that someone is goofing this whole process up very seriously. Fill in your preferred bugbear.