Like virtually every school district across the country, the one I live in has been experiencing budget problems. Late last year they had to lay off some employees, close some schools, and, as some parents hoped, raise some extra tax revenue. While the town I live in isn’t particularly wealthy, the county is among the most affluent in the state. Some parents, upset over state laws that limit the amount of tax money any given district can raise, decided to file a lawsuit. Their argument was that it would be unfair to limit their ability to finance their children’s educations.
The lawsuit was filed in December, with the aim of allowing a local “voluntary” tax increase for the district. Essentially, the plaintiffs wanted permission from the state to expropriate their neighbors even more than present laws allow, in order to educate their kids. Of course this tax is only “voluntary” in the sense that those who vote for it are willing to pay it. For anyone else who disagrees, there is no choice in the matter, thus it is not voluntary at all. This is the nature of democracy. So long as a majority of people desire something, those who are opposed have the choice between acquiescing and being subject to the violence inherent in the system.
As one might expect, various groups were opposed to this scheme. However, the loudest opposition wasn’t from whom we might have thought. Normally such protest comes from libertarians, individuals without school-aged children, or private/homeschooled families. This time it came from other school districts in the state. Of course they weren’t concerned for the victims of this thievery; they were upset at the thought of not being able to share in the looting. Under Kansas statute, education funds are supposed to be equally distributed among districts. This is supposed to allow equal opportunity of education.
Why, if the under-privileged districts in rural Kansas had to rely solely on their own income for funding, then they would be at a disadvantage. You see, the rich Johnson county children would have more money to spend, and logically it must follow that a more expensive education is a better education. The first problem with this idea is that even if it were true, it is still immoral. Taking from one and giving it to another is nothing short of theft, or legal plunder, as Frédéric Bastiat referred to it. This is true regardless of whether the thief plans to donate the spoils to charity or spend the money on his own wants. But secondly, and more importantly, at least for utilitarians, this argument isn’t supported by empirical evidence.
Nationwide, the average cost per student at government schools is more than $10,000. For students at private schools, annual tuition costs are $8,549. Homeschoolers have the most cost effective education, averaging somewhere near $500 annually.¹ This difference in education costs does not lead to poorer education either. The opposite is actually true.
The results of standardized tests clearly show an inverse relationship between expenditures and results. Homeschooled students’ test scores average near the 87th percentile, while the typical government schooled child scores at the 58th percentile. So it appears that more money is not likely to have the desired effect for students of government schools.
If high-quality, low-cost education is the desired end, the means should be to completely privatize schooling. Of course this cannot be accomplished overnight; instead, it would need to happen gradually. This could be achieved by introducing competition to government schools. First, government regulations dictating the curriculums of private schools and homeschooling should be eliminated. Second, tax credits paid from education funds, should be given to parents who enroll their children in schools other than those operated by the government.
If parents believe their children are not learning as much as they should from government education, or the curriculum doesn’t suit their preferences, they can move to a different school. If government schools fail to satisfy their patrons, the parents and students, they will incur losses. Over time, the market signals of profit and loss (presently absent) will determine which schools remain in operation, and under what terms.
Parents and families should be responsible for the education of children. Not a government employee, not the retired couple living on a fixed income, and not the twenty-something with no children. So in addition, deductions for those without school-aged children should be phased in as well. This way parents begin assuming more and more of the costs to educate their children, and those without children aren’t forced to participate in a socialized education system.
Education costs are the single greatest expense for state and local governments nationwide. If the billions of dollars presently being siphoned away from the people earning it were returned, then I have no doubt that quality education would be affordable. If nothing else, I see no reason why the parents of my district can’t make their own voluntary contributions. At least that would be the moral thing to do, instead of trying to rob the rest of us to fund their kids’ poor education.
¹This estimate ignores the opportunity cost of a parent not in the workforce. However, not all parents of children in government schools are in the workforce, so the same opportunity cost exists for them. Also, many home-school families operate businesses from the home, and thus compensate for unrealized wages.