School Choice

Here in Canada we take it for granted that we have publically funded, privately provided health care. If you ever suggest the same model for education people are shocked and horrified. Why? Well, let's look at some of the myths of school choice.

Cost: This is the first and biggest myth. School choice takes money from the public system. No it does not. School choice simply requires that society pays for the education of children. All children. Not just those whose parents accept the value-system taught in the public schools. I have never heard a proponent of the public education system claim that they would ever deny the education of a child in that system, or that they would object to the government paying for the public education of that child. So let me yell it out loud: THE ISSUE IS NOT MONEY! Public-education supporters are perfectly prepared to pay for the education of children. The issue is how that publically-funded education is provided. Should it be publically provided or should there be another mechanism?

Moral high ground: Per the above point about money, school-choice advocates can really claim the moral high ground. They advocate that society pay for the education of all children. Public-aeducation proponents are only interested in paying for the education of some children.

Teachers will object: Teachers are arguably the biggest beneficiary of a school-choice system. At present teachers are stuck in a government-controlled system that stifles innovation. The government dictates the curriculum, and the teachers must implement it. They have no capacity to object. Here in Ontario there was a strike over Bill 160. Net result: teachers lost two weeks of pay and still had to do what the government dictated. Under a system of school choice teachers are free to innovate, set up their own schools, try new ideas.

This just pays for the education of rich people's children: No. No. No. First, rich people live in rich neighborhoods and make sure that their public school is very, very good. Poor people, who have no capacity to move to the rich neighborhood, are stuck with the school that they are given. Until recently, the school funding was by property taxes. Guess which schools had more money? Under a system of school choice, all students are funded equally, whether their parents are rich or poor. The second biggest beneficiaries of school choice are poor people who are currently stuck in poverty and the school their children are in will not help them get out. Under the current system, they are stuck with that school. Under school choice, they can get into a better school. Again, consider that point about the moral high ground. If you did not believe me before, think again. The current public-education system is morally repugnant for maintaining the poor in a ghetto.

What about special-needs children: Yes, I did just state that all children are funded equally. Clearly this would leave special-needs children out. I believe that the current funding formula has a mechanism for identifying such children and adjusting the per-student funding formula up for such children. If not, such a mechanism can be easily developed. This is a red-herring issue.

School choice will balkanize our society and make it less tolerant: Tell that to the Dutch. Arguably the most tolerant nation on earth, The Netherlands has a wide open system of school choice. It is publically funded and approximately a third of the schools are "public" and two-thirds "private." I'd also point out in passing that it is a little late to argue about our society becoming more pluralistic and multi-cultural (that is what you meant by balkanize, isn't it?).

If you want to read more, check out the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard.

Paul A.S. Ward
Last modified: Thu Nov 3 16:09:16 EST 2005

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