Dan Mitchell article School Choice on the March!


School Choice on the March!

I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performingmonopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorializedabout the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year,according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools.CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1305710942475489280&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fdanieljmitchell.wordpress.com%2F2021%2F03%2F31%2Fschool-choice-on-the-march%2F&siteScreenName=wordpressdotcom&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=550px

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their nosesat the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.


Michelle: You are the grandfather of school vouchers. Do you feel victorious?

Mr. Friedman: Far from victorious, but very optimistic and hopeful. We are at the beginning of the task because as of the moment vouchers are available to only a very small amount of children. 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. You know our educational system is one of the most backwards things in our society in the way we teach people they did 200 years ago. There is a person in the front of the room. There are children sitting down at the bottom, and they are being talked to. Can you name any other industry in the U.S. which is as technologically backward? I can name one and only one: the legislature for the same reason. Both are monopolies. The elementary and secondary school system is the single most socialist industry in the U.S. leaving aside the military, but aside from the military it’s a major socialist industry; it is centralized and the control comes from the center and the difficulty of having a monopoly in which people cannot choose has been exacerbated by the fact that it has been largely taken over by teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and the unions. Understandably, I do not blame them, but they are interested in the welfare of their members, not the welfare of the children, and the result is they have introduced a degree of rigidity, which makes it impossible to reform the public school system from within. Reform has to come through competition from the outside and the only way you can get competition is by making it possible for parents to have the ability to choose.

Michelle: Give to me a model, an example of how it would work.

Mr. Friedman: Very simple, take the extreme the government says we are willing to finance schooling for every child. The government compels children. If you look at the role of government in education there are three different levels. There is a level of compulsory. The government says every child must go to school until such and such and age. That is the equivalent of saying if you are going to drive a car you must have a license. The second stage is funding. Not only do we require you to have an education, but the government is willing to pay for that schooling. That would be equivalent to saying the government is willing to pay for your car that you drive. The third level is running the educational industry. That would be the equivalent of the government manufacturing the automobile or, to put it in a different image, consider food stamps today. Food stamps are funds provided by the government. But if that were to be runned (sic) like the schools, they would say everybody has to use these food stamps at a government grocery and each person with food stamps is assigned to a particular government grocer. So the only way you can get your food stamps is by going to that grocer. Do you think those groceries would be very good? We know what the situation is in schooling. People say why now and not 50-75 years ago? Well, when I went to high school that was a long time ago. In the 1920s there were 150,000 school districts in the U.S and the population was half what it is now. Today, there are fewer than 15,000 school districts. So it used to be that you really did have competition cause you had small school districts and parents had a good deal of control over those school districts, but increasingly we have shifted to very large school districts, to centralized control, to a system in which the governmental officials, in which the educational professionals control it. And like every socialist industry, it produces a product that is very expensive and of very low quality. Of course it is not uniform. There are some very good schools do not misunderstand me, but there are also some very bad ones.

Michelle: I interviewed some folks who are against school vouchers and they say that if you really want to help out a school what you should do is provide high-quality early childhood education, small classes, small schools, summer school available to children who want it. Put money to those items, which they claim would work.

Mr. Friedman: They don’t, we have been doing that. The amount of money spent per child adjusted for inflation has something like doubled or tripled over the last 20 years. Twenty years ago we had this report A Nation at Risk that pointed out all of the difficulties I just referred to and which pointed out this was a first generation that was going to be less schooled than its parents. We are now in the next generation and will be even less well schooled. We have had every possible effort you could have from reform from within. It is not just in schools; it is in any area. Reform has to come from outside. It has to come from competition. Let me illustrate that from within the school system. The United States from all accounts ranks number one in higher education. People from all over the world regard the United States’ colleges and universities the best and most varied. On the other hand in every other international comparison we rank near the bottom in elementary and secondary education. Why the difference? One word: choice. The elementary and secondary education, the school picks the child; it picks its customer. In higher education, the customer picks its school, you have choice that makes all the difference in the world. It means competition forces product. Look over the rest of the economy. Is there any area in the U.S. in which progress has not required progress from the outside? Look at the telephone industry when it was broken down into the little bells and opened up the competition. It started a period of rapid innovation and development. The key word is competition and the question is how can you get competition. Only by having the customer choosing.

Michelle: There is concern that money is going to religious schools. That the majority of the students in voucher programs that exist use them to attend schools with religious affiliation?

Mr. Friedman: Why? Because the vouchers are so small in some cases. It is true that of the private schools in the U.S. the great bulk of them are religious. That is for one simple reason. Here is someone selling something for nothing. Somebody down the street is giving away chocolate and you want to get into the business of selling chocolate. That is kind of tough isn’t it? Here at schools, children can attend them. They are not free. They are paying for it in the form of taxes, but there is no specific charge for going to that school. Somebody else is going to offer it. The churches, the religious organizations have had a real advantage in that they were the only ones around who were in a position to subsidize the education and keep the fees down low. If you open it wide, the most recent case was Ohio, Cleveland case. The voucher that they had had a max value of $2,500. Now it is not easy to provide a decent education at $2,500 and make money at it. Make it pay. At the same time the state of Ohio was spending something like over $7,000 per child on schooling. If that voucher had been $7,000 instead of $2,500 I have no doubt that there would have been a whole raft of new private, non-profit, both profit and non-profit schools. That is what has happened in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a voucher system and today the fraction of the voucher users in Milwaukee going to religious schools is less than the fraction going to religious schools was before this system started because there have been new schools developed and some of them have been religious but many of them are not. In any event, the Supreme Court has settled that issue. They have said that if it is the choice of the parent, if there are alternatives available, there are government schools, charter schools, private non-denominational schools, private denominational schools, so long as the choice is in the hands of the parent that is not a violation of the First Amendment.

Michelle: You have a friend and an ally in the White House when it comes to vouchers.

Mr. Friedman: I should say. Mr. Bush has always been in favor. He is in favor of free choice. Remember vouchers are a means not an end. The purpose of vouchers is to enable parents to have free choice, and the purpose of having free choice is to provide competition and allow the educational industry to get out of the 17th century and get into the 21st century and have more innovation and more evolvement. There is no reason why you cannot have the same kind of change in the provision of education as you have had in industries like the computer industry, the television industry and other things.

Michelle: Is it refreshing to have a president that, Bill Clinton was firmly against vouchers.

Mr. Friedman: No, it is a case of circumstances. When he was governor of Arkansas, he was not against vouchers. He was in favor, but when he became president he came out against vouchers. I should say he did not oppose vouchers as governor and he did as president and that was for political reasons. People don’t recognize how powerful politically the teachers’ unions are. Something like a quarter of all the delegates at the Democratic National Convention are from the teachers’ union. They are probably the most powerful pressure group in the U.S., very large funds, very large number of people and very active politically.

Michelle: We talk in the office about how President Bush has some very Friedmanesqe ideas.

Mr. Friedman: They are not Freidmanesqe. They are just good ideas. I hope that is true anyway. I think very highly of President Bush, and I think in these areas, don’t misunderstand me, that is not a blanket statement. There are some things he has done that I disagree with, but taken as a whole he has been moving in the right direction of trying to move toward a smaller more limited government, trying to provide more freedom and more initiative in all areas. His philosophy on Medicare is the same as his philosophy in schools.

Michelle: Is that refreshing?

Mr. Friedman: It is an interesting thing, if you look at the facts, the one area, the area in which the low-income people of this country, the blacks and the minority, are most disadvantaged is with respect with the kinds of schools they can send their children to. The people who live in Harlem or the slums or the corresponding areas in LA or San Francisco, they can go to the same stores, shop in the same stores everybody else can, they can buy the same automobiles, they can go to supermarket, but they have very limited choice of schools. Everybody agrees that the schools in those areas are the worst. They are poor. Yet, here you have a Democrat who allege their interest is to help the poor and the low-income people. Here you have to take a different point. Every poll has shown that the strongest supporters of vouchers are the low-income blacks, and yet hardly a single black leader has been willing to come out for vouchers. There were some exceptions, Paul Williams in Milwaukee who was responsible for that, and a few others.

Michelle: Why do you think that is?

Mr. Friedman: For obvious reasons, political. It has been to the self interest to the leaders. The school system, as long as it’s governmental it’s a source of power and jobs to hand around and funds to dispose of. If it is privatized that disappears. And the other aspect of it is the power of the teachers’ unions. Right now those of us that are in the upper-income classes have freedom of choice for our children in various ways. We can decide where to live and we can choose places to live that have good schools or we can afford to pay twice for schooling once by taxes and once by paying tuition at a private school. It seems to me utterly unfair that those opportunities should not be open to everybody at all levels of income. If you had a system, the kind I would like to see, the government would say we require every child to get a certain number of years of schooling and in order to make that possible we are going to provide for every parent a voucher equal to a certain number of dollars, which they can use only for schooling, can’t use it for anything else. They can add to it, but they cannot subtract from it. Those will be, those can be used in government schools. Let the government run the school, but force them to be in competition so that all government schools charge tuition, but can be paid for by that voucher. But that same voucher can also be used in private schools of all kinds and then you would have an open; the teachers’ union complained and they insist they are doing a good job. If they are doing a good job then why are they so afraid of some competition?

Copyright: MSNBC, Inc. 2003

Milton Friedman

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