* Re: How not to privatize schools

Topics: Education
10 Oct 1994

From: ervan

>What is the libertarian view on what should be required for schools?


Let me address the rest of your questions briefly and directly without
engaging the whole school privatization debate. I'll return to that as
appropriate one topic at a time.

>I'm just wondering what you consider should be legally necessary for any
> school. If it's nothing, then I disagree. Parental rights over their
> children's fates only extend so far with me, and end before the ability to
> significantly hamper their education.

I agree that parents owe certain things to their children, a decent
education being one of them. I do not agree that there is any way to
enforce that via law. Utopia is not an option. In a free market, some
parents would not educate their children. With a government monopoly, many
children are not getting an education now and parents are all but powerless
to do anything about it. Giving every child the education they 'deserve'
just isn't possible in the real world. I think privatization will do a
better job than government monopoly at providing as much education as

A law that says 'you must give your kids a good education' is meaningless.
A law that says you must teach arithmetic is tolerable, but the problem is
it never stays like that. Instead, once you create a body that can enforce
standards, it will enforce them in the interest of helping whatever groups
it represents (e.g. the Creationism debate). It is better that the
government impose no standards and let some people slip than screw up lots
of others.

Beyond the pragmatic, and on the more philosophical, would you force fundies
to teach their children evolution? I would not. On such matters, there is
no neutral ground. The best we have come up with now is a rather bland
education where we try to teach nothing instead. That's even worse. Of
course, from my point of view, the public schools have become a propoganda
organ for liberalism, the three R's, racism, reproduction, & recycling
(thanks to George Will for the joke). I'm not sure if that is a religion
exactly, but I'm darned offended by it and want to be able to cast my veto
on curricula too. Truth cannot be determined by consensus. The government
cannot make rational standards for education.

I should add that this is my point of view. Many people who consider
themselves libertarians would disagree on such an extreme measure. However,
I think that essentially all libertarians would agree that we should switch
to a voucher system and let people compete to provide the best service and
let parents choose the best education they can find. The question of how
much regulation to impose on such a system is a matter of debate (if you
have none, people will just scam the vouchers like they do food stamps now,
if you have some, why will it not simply degenerate back to the current
situation?, home schooling, etc.).

>What about schools in poor areas?

Vouchers. Or, see my next answer...

>I can only assume they will suffer
>inordinately from privatization, relative to previous government funding
>levels (however low those may be right now). If I'm wrong, do tell.

Government funding levels are not low! They are typically $5K/year and they
run up to $10K/year in inner cities like D.C. Private schools are about $4K
on average (after corrections for handicapped programs).

As for the main question, this becomes a long answer quickly. The short
answer is three fold.

First, government monopoly schools have failed utterly to educate the poor
anyway. They are hardly more than training prisons.

Second, all schools were private in the 19th century. Despite people being
much poorer on average than now, most children received a decent education.
It is possible. It does work. Just about all parents (except those paid to
have children by the welfare system :-( )care very much for their children.
Just as surely as they will spend $K's to feed and house them, they will
spend it to educate them (if the government would just let them). There are
very few children whose parents do not have sufficient money to buy them a
better education in a free market than they are getting now (without
vouchers, but after getting back their property tax). I'll leave it at that
for now.

Third, education is a fully internalizable good (in the economic sense).
View education not as a gift but an investment. There is investment money
for productive poor as well as the rich. It may be parents expecting help
in old age (an old idea), it may be direct loans, it may be apprenticeships,
it may be percent-of-income-loans with very flexible terms. That is, a
fully private system will educate people to exactly the most economically
efficient level (and, yes, I recognize this doesn't address the moral
argument of a 'right' to education). Beyond that, education then becomes a
gift which is the right of the *giver* to bestow. The recipient has no
right per se.