Competition and consumer choice lead to innovation, better service, and cost reduction. Monopoly results in stagnation and inefficiency. This is as true in education as anywhere else. Parents should be able to choose the best schools for their children. They face a barrier, though: They’re already paying “tuition” to the public school system in the form of property taxes. Paying for two schools is beyond many people’s ability.
Competition produces better results
A simple answer to this problem is to give them a break on what they’re paying the public school system. If they decide to send their children to a different school from the government’s, they aren’t using the government’s resources. Why should they have to pay twice?
Not every student learns best in the same environment. The more choices parents have, the better the odds are of their finding a school that works for their children. When tax burdens take away their choice, government schools don’t have a motive to improve. This isn’t the teachers’ fault; they do the best they can under the system. But a captive market means the economic pressure comes from the government, not from the parents or students. Very often, that means they have to dance to Washington’s tune.
When parents have choices, schools have to do a good job or lose students. Parents will expect them to help students learn, not just sit at their desks.Schools that really educate will attract more students.
What about the objections?
The objections to school choice rest on mistaken ideas. Let’s look at some of them.
- “Public money shouldn’t go to private schools.” That implies that the money you pay in taxes is “public money.” It says that what you earn belongs to the government, and anything it lets you keep is a generous gift. But it’s not the government that goes to work every day to earn your paycheck. Your money is yours. Reducing your taxes for a valid reason isn’t a welfare payment.
- “Giving people tax breaks for school choice violates separation of church and state.” Separation of church and state means the government should strictly keep its hands off in matters of religion. It doesn’t allow the government to get in the way when people want to spend their money on a religious school. The laws should be strictly neutral and let people choose church-run or secular schools without interference.
- “School choice means less money for the public school system.” This is the cry of an entrenched bureaucracy demanding its privilege. The point of education is to educate, not to keep money flowing into the government’s schools. If children learn better and less money needs to be spent on tax-supported schools, the people of New Hampshire win.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said: “Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that, a system of free choice, we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
That should be New Hampshire’s goal, too.
— Gary McGath