School choice: We can’t help the poor by helping only them

Opponents of school choice measures such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships love to do a little two-step.

First, they insist choice measures be limited only to low-income families — for the sake of being “fair.” Then, they note the tuition charged by existing private schools and say these families couldn’t possibly make up the difference between those prices and the value of the voucher or scholarship, and thus we might as well scrap the choice measures.

With that, they sit back and fold their arms, confident they’ve done something other than prove the basic laws of economics apply to education.

Before we burst their bubble, let’s take a step back.

The goal of anyone interested in education should be to see that all children attend quality schools. Right?

In a triumph of hope over experience, choice opponents think this can be accomplished through existing public schools alone. If only we spend more and more (and more) money on them.

The rest of us understand the public schools need more competition. More competition would not only mean new, better options for families. It would compel public schools to improve themselves, too.

That is, after all, the way the world works. Consider an example: digital cameras.

Economist Mark J. Perry last year observed that, in 2000, Nikon’s popular CoolPix camera was a 3-megapixel camera that cost $1,337 (adjusted for inflation). By 2012, the CoolPix was a 16.1-megapixel gadget that retailed for $197.

So, in 12 years the camera became more than five times more powerful even though it sold at less than a sixth of the price.

What drove those changes? Technological innovation, of course, but also competition. In fact, competition spurred the innovation: Had Nikon enjoyed a government-enforced market share of more than 90 percent, we hardly could have expected its camera to undergo such substantial increases in quality or decreases in price, much less both.

We shouldn’t expect to see competition change education quite that dramatically, though there is great untapped potential for schools to use technology. But neither can we expect education to improve at more than a modest rate so long as public schools face little competition.

That brings us back to means-testing for school-choice measures, and those basic laws of economics.

In case it’s been a while since you took Econ 101: When demand rises, supply increases to meet it. All else being equal, this tends to drive prices down over time.

It is precisely because demand for educational alternatives is artificially depressed, by the existence of “free” public schools, that their supply remains so restricted and their prices so high.

If we continue to limit school choice measures via income thresholds, or most any other restriction, we will simply ensure demand remains low. That’s a sure-fire way to keep supply low, too, and prevent the robust competition needed to boost the quality of all schools.

And that, in turn, will keep tuition prices from falling to the point even those families that do qualify for a voucher or tax-credit scholarship can afford other options.

The end result will be failure for the choice measures, and more middling improvement in educational quality.

To be fair, choice opponents aren’t the only ones who favor means-testing. Some advocates would accept income limits if that meant choice measures moved forward sooner.

While I can’t fault them for their impatience, and while I certainly share their concern for lower-income families, they need to realize they risk crippling the entire effort before it has a chance to succeed. Worse, they risk preventing even those lower-income families from seeing the very changes they so desperately need.

That’s hardly “fair,” to those families or anyone else.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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278 comments Add your comment

MiltonMan

February 21st, 2013
6:24 am

Libs would not know what fair is if their lives depended upon it. Their defintion of fair: “Tax those rich people who are “lucky” to be rich”.

Numbers-R-US

February 21st, 2013
6:29 am

So how much has Phoenix University lowered the cost of a quality education. :lol:

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
6:33 am

Good points, but the emotion charged opponents of
these measures and their cries of “they’re stealing
MY tax money”, “they’re destroying public education”
and “they want to teach Jesus riding dinosaurs” are
coming from the education elite and they
are a powerful lobby without fairness in their claims.

DeborahinAthens

February 21st, 2013
6:45 am

As a real capitalist (I say this because I make my living that way) it amuses me when the “free market creates competition, free market creates jobs, the free market brings costs down, free market good, government bad…” chant starts up. We, who believe in (good) public education see people that have a stated agenda to bring about the eradication of government. They follow idiots like Grover Norquist who want to ” shrink government until it can be drowned in a bathtub.” They elect people like George W. Bush who stated many times that he wanted to get rid of Social Security. We know that your golden boys like Boortz and Hannity want to eliminate public education and “government schools”. We know that, since you cannot overtly do these things, you have resorted to starving the schools. Our public schools in this miserable state have had billions stripped from their budgets, parapros fired, teachers fired, days cut, curricula decimated. So we see what the agenda is. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize how the voucher system is going to work. And Kyle, if you do not see that the vouchers are going to aid the kids that are already going to private schools. The public money needed so badly for public schools will be going to for-profit schools and religious organizations. These schools can take whomever they want, so the kids that are problems won’t show up there. They do not have to account to the taxpayers for what they teach, they don’t have to meet the same standards as the public schools. The poorer students that cannot afford the difference (and I am amazed at how you gloss over this) will stay behind in schools that are going to be worse and worse because their students don’t have access to the programs that make a student attractive to colleges. Schools are not camera manufacturers! You can’t bring your prices down by moving your manufacturing plant to China. You need good teachers who are paid a good, competitive salary. You need good textbooks, computers, libraries (another thing the right wing ding bats want to get rid of) . Should teachers be held accountable? Absolutely! But I am sick to death of the “free market” screed. In a free market school system kids become the commodity. Corporations whose only concern is profit will run the charter schools and our tax dollars will be going to religious schools that will not teach evolution. So, Kyle, spin, spin, spin. We The People see what you are doing, and we will do everything to try to prevent it.

Numbers-R-US

February 21st, 2013
6:51 am

Feel free to promote legislation that would eliminate the use of property tax, or any other tax for that matter, to fund education and push for a pay as you go system instead. That should hurry along the optimization of the competitive environment you seek. Of course there is that little constitutional requirement to contend with but I’m sure you resourceful cons can figure out a work around that you will find financially palatable.

Jefferson

February 21st, 2013
7:07 am

You are really clueless about the country.

Numbers-R-US

February 21st, 2013
7:09 am

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

February 21st, 2013
7:20 am

Scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment to be released Tuesday show 15-year-old students in the U.S. performing about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Guess when all that^^ started -

The United States is living on its past. Among the oldest group in the study (those aged 56–65), U.S. prose skills rose to second place. For those attending school in the 1950s, SAT scores reached an all-time high.

As the years go by, the United States slips down the list. Americans educated in the sixties captured a Bronze Medal in literacy, those schooled in the seventies got 5th place in the race.

That’s right, when the liberals took over education.

About time to kick them out, isn’t it?

Thomas Heyward Jr

February 21st, 2013
7:25 am

Even WITH competition, government school Department of Education will only be an indoctrination pipeline to the Department of Corrections for the free-thinkers and a pipeline to the Department of Labor for the easily managed no-thinkers.
There’s more to life than being a drone.
.
Save your mind……….Get out of these cages as soon as possible and teach yourself., work hard and maybe you can emulate the following High School drop outs.
.
Richard Branson (Virgin) – With an estimated net worth of $4 billion, Richard left high school at age 16 to start an arts and cultural magazine called Student.
Eminem (Rapper) – With a net worth over $300 million, Eminem once failed the ninth grade three times before dropping out.
Jay-Z (Rapper) – With a net worth of nearly $500 million, Jay Z never graduated high school.
Andrew Jackson (President of the United States, picture on twenty dollar bill) – With little formal education, Andrew studied law in his late teens and became a lawyer.
Jack London – American author
Ray Charles – American musician
Dizzy Gillespie – American musician
Peter Jennings – US/Canadian journalist
Ansel Adams – US nature photographer
Louis Armstrong – American musician
Humphrey Bogart – Actor
Rosa Parks – Activist
007 – Superspy (Neither Sean Connery nor Pierce Brosnan graduated)
Charles Chaplin – Actor-writer-director-producer
Thomas Haffa – German self-made double digit billionaire

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
7:31 am

DeborahinAthens proves my point.

JDW

February 21st, 2013
7:45 am

@Kyle…”Opponents of school choice measures such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships love to do a little two-step.”

Maybe some do I do not…government monies should not be paid to provide private school educations to ANY student…poor or not. That money, energy, time and participation should be focused on public schools. Now if you want to talk about the ablity to shift districts or for parents…not companies…to run a school as a charter that is a different subject. Though one I think should be a decision for those parents and boards at the local level.

“It is precisely because demand for educational alternatives is artificially depressed, by the existence of “free” public schools, that their supply remains so restricted and their prices so high.”

HORSE HOOEY…there is no suppression of supply. You have kids call a couple of private schools in the area and tell them you are interested. You will be amazed at the competition and marketing that will try to get your dollars. As for “free” public schools, you must be the only one that believes that. It is precisely because they are not free that the investment should be maximized rather that diluted.

JDW

February 21st, 2013
7:50 am

@Aseop…”Scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment to be released Tuesday show 15-year-old students in the U.S. performing about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.”

Let me give you a clue, storyteller. The countries that rank ahead of us aren’t doing in with less government and more private enterprise. They are doing it with strong NATIONAL taxpayer funded schools that are held to common standards…you know just the sort of thing you don’t get when government is out of the equation.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

February 21st, 2013
7:53 am

So the high test scores in 1950 produced with less government mean nothing to you, eh, jdw?

rwcole

February 21st, 2013
8:00 am

Kyle speaks like someone getting a tax credit that he desperately wants to keep. He wants it so badly that his logic does a two-step that dances over the reality. If you want to send your kids to private school, you have that option. Why are you trying to ruin public education in the process? Why should my tax dollars go down a religious rabbit hole with no oversight at all?

rwcole

February 21st, 2013
8:02 am

And what Deborah in Athens says!! I agree 100%

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
8:03 am

Public educators love to point to the parents as
the cause of children’s failure to learn but when
parents choose to switch to different educators
and take their tax dollars with them, the public
educators cry foul and take your kid but pay us
anyway.

sailfish

February 21st, 2013
8:05 am

kyle

Talk about apples and oranges; comparing schools and digital camera’s is weak and really not relevant at all. It’s not competetion that makes schools better, it’s the buyin by PARENTS to hold their CHILDREN and TEACHERS accountable. It is a three legged stool and take away one of the legs and the stool is not functional. In the real world, how is it possible that charter schools with teachers who are paid way less will get better outcomes? Easy, cherry pick the student population and leave all the losers to the public schools. How does that work out in competitive sports? Usually the teams with the best players win.
The real problem here is our soceity and the break down of the family. The entertainment culture is a huge magnet that does not in any way, shape, or form advocate for education. Imagine if you will a culture that promotes education and RESPECTS those in the teaching profession Charter schools are the new corporate money grab, thars money in them thar hallways – that’s there bottom line as always. It’s a political solution that does nothing to solve a real world problem..

Whirled Peas

February 21st, 2013
8:09 am

Look at what competition has done for the world of communications since they took away AT&T’s monopoly power over the phone. Without deregulation I doubt there would be an internet today. Removing the government’s monopoly power over our education tax dollars would do to education what deregulating the phone system did to communications. It wouldn’t happen over night, but within a decade we would see real innovation in education. Teachers would hate it, just like AT&T’s employees hated deregulation. But in the end it would be the best for all.

BuckeyeInGa

February 21st, 2013
8:12 am

@BF 8:03–Public educators love to point to the parents as
the cause of children’s failure to learn but when
parents choose to switch to different educators
and take their tax dollars with them, the public
educators cry foul and take your kid but pay us
anyway.

Pay us anyway? By that logic someone that doesn’t have kids should be able to take they tax money and use it where they see fit.

Aquagirl

February 21st, 2013
8:15 am

Education works like a CoolPix camera! Therefore, school vouchers!

I think Sarah Palin has found a new job ghostwriting for Kyle.

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
8:17 am

BuckeyeInGa
Pay us anyway? By that logic someone that doesn’t have kids should be able to take they tax money and use it where they see fit.
……………………………………………………………………
I believe that under the Scholarship program they can do that
and corporations can too.

BuckeyeInGa

February 21st, 2013
8:22 am

Barking Frog
I believe that under the Scholarship program they can do that
and corporations can too.
——————————-
You’re saying they can take the money and use it on something like road expansion by their home, or must it still go to a school?

Peadawg

February 21st, 2013
8:23 am

Republicans seem to be ok with handouts and entitlements as long as they go towards the rich (who are already well off and can afford it).

Numbers-R-US

February 21st, 2013
8:25 am

I hear Kyle has a mini-med plan to offer the conned here too. :lol:

Darwin

February 21st, 2013
8:33 am

I agree. And we can only help the poor by giving major tax breaks to the very wealthy while cutting social programs to the poor. Gosh, I see so many other applications of this theory. Let’s go for it.

UIC

February 21st, 2013
8:33 am

Color me pessimistic Kyle, but based on a few of your recent editorials, I’m guessing you have young kids who are just starting or will soon be starting school, you want to put them in private schools, but you don’t qualify for financial assistance, so you’re hoping a few editorials, that include comparing the education of children to improvements in digital cameras, will get a groundswell of support to have government funds handed to for profit schools that will, in your mind, separate your kids from those in public schools you consider undesirable.

JDW

February 21st, 2013
8:36 am

@Aseop…”So the high test scores in 1950 produced with less government mean nothing to you, eh, jdw?”

Todays US scores are far far higher than they were in 1950. What has happened is the other countries got better while we have been “held back” by paranioa and voter ignorance.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

February 21st, 2013
8:37 am

Maybe Kyle doesn’t want his children to grow up to be stupid like all these liberals are.

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
8:40 am

BuckeyeinGa
just to a school.

Peadawg

February 21st, 2013
8:43 am

UIC
February 21st, 2013
8:33 am

Ouch! Very nice.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
8:51 am

“We, who believe in (good) public education see people that have a stated agenda to bring about the eradication of government.”

Pure, unadulterated hyperbolic nonsense, DeborahinAthens.

As is the rest of your 6:45 screed.

Try reality sometime. As well as educating yourself on what people whom you disagree with REALLY want to do.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
8:54 am

“government monies should not be paid to provide private school educations to ANY student”

Forget where “government monies” come from originally, JDW?

Steve

February 21st, 2013
8:55 am

So, let me ask this – what countries are providing better educated students than us? And of those countries, which ones are sending kids in wealthy communities to fantastic private schools and those in poorer area to lousy public and/or private schools? Think about it – schooling needs to be regulated, public, and equal, for all students. Comparing privatizing schools to digital phones is comparing apples to watermelons.

Steve

February 21st, 2013
8:58 am

The United States places 17th in the developed world for education, according to a global report by education firm Pearson.

Finland and South Korea, not surprisingly, top the list of 40 developed countries with the best education systems. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore follow.

++++++++++

A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found Finland to be the best education system in the world.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/finlands-education-system-best-in-world-2012-11?op=1#ixzz2LXeyXONf

How did they do it? Read the article. HINT: The school system is 100% state funded

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
8:59 am

“Todays US scores are far far higher than they were in 1950. ”

And yet the kids coming out of high school are largely dumber than a sack of hammers.

They know how to take standardize tests, but don’t really know anything. Kinda like liberals in general.

Steve

February 21st, 2013
8:59 am

But hey – learning from other countries’ successes is too obvious a solution, right?

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
9:00 am

“How did they do it? Read the article. HINT: The school system is 100% state funded”

Uh, Steve?

Hint: So are ours . . . . .

Steve

February 21st, 2013
9:02 am

Hint – read the article. That’s just one of many things they did to make it work.

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
9:03 am

Steve
Has Finland’s space exploration program been a success also?

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

February 21st, 2013
9:04 am

whirled peas makes an excellent point!

Choice, except for maternity options, is not a word often found in liberal ideology. Government is always their choice.

Just Saying..

February 21st, 2013
9:05 am

“Save your mind……….Get out of these cages as soon as possible and teach yourself., work hard and maybe you can emulate the following High School drop outs.”

Ah, an attaboy for drop-outs.
Hard to figure why one Party has an anti-science, anti-math, anti-education image…

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
9:05 am

Steve, I did read the article, and some of their methods make a certain amount of sense.

It was YOU who chose to put up the stupid conclusion about funding being their source of success, not me.

Steve

February 21st, 2013
9:06 am

Barking frog – is Finland a world power that is seeking space exploration? Is this the kindergarten community forum or what? durrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Steve

February 21st, 2013
9:07 am

Tiberius, if they were successful and promoted privatizing schools, then it would back up Kyle’s argument. However, I don’t see any countries who have been successful privatizing schools, and asking me to send my tax monies to a wealthy community in Peachtree city while a school in East Point flounders because the community isn’t wealthy.

barking frog

February 21st, 2013
9:09 am

Steve
You are extolling the wonderful rating Finland has
yet you provide no examples of the product of that
education system which should be easy for someone
above the kindergarten community forum.

bob

February 21st, 2013
9:11 am

deborahinathens, Bush did not want to get rid of SS, he wanted to improve it because it is a ripoff to any responsible person, but I see from your post you need gov to take 12.4% of your gross up to 108K and flush it. By defending SS you show us you are one of the sheeple. Your rants mean nothing.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
9:12 am

“and asking me to send my tax monies to a wealthy community in Peachtree city while a school in East Point flounders because the community isn’t wealthy.”

But FORCING me to give my tax money to an enterprise that fails to educate my kids properly is fine?

Why can’t I just get back what I was forced to pay, and use it where I see fit?

Deep Cover

February 21st, 2013
9:13 am

You have to LOVE conservatives that like to push “false equivalencies.” It is very FOOLISH to compare a digital camera to education…it just doesn’t MAKE ANY SENSE.

For the uneducated, misinformed, or just plain ignorant here are a FEW of the differences. Digital camera components are governed by Moore’s Law (especially the memory). Further efficiency gains can be attained through economies of scale and outsourcing. I see VERY FEW of the similarities in education. First and foremost, there are certain efficiency gains that can NEVER be attained in education. For instance, HEATING/COOLING the building costs are ALWAYS going up. FOOD is always going up. Real estate is always going up. Maintenance is always up. It is pretty difficult to offshore teaching and janitorial services to get those gains that you can in manufacturing a digital camera. Fuel for buses is ALWAYS GOING UP.

So once again, how are we going to compare an item that is a commodity (and the price is always dropping) to and institution with FIXED COSTS that are ALWAYS RISING (fuel, food, energy, labor, supplies).

That doesn’t make ANY SENSE. Another example from the conservative playbook of false equivalency.

Aquagirl

February 21st, 2013
9:16 am

Barking, Finland is a part of the European Space Agency. Their GDP is nowhere near ours, but ragging their space program is like ragging Georgia’s.

I’d say Georgia could claim part of NASA’s accomplishment but the credit really belongs to Ga Tech. :)

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

February 21st, 2013
9:16 am

“For instance, HEATING/COOLING the building costs are ALWAYS going up.”

Not if the buildings are smaller due to less students using them.

“FOOD is always going up.”

Not if there are less students eating.

“Real estate is always going up.”

Seen market prices in the last 6 years, Deep Cover?

“Maintenance is always up.”

Congratulations. 1 out of 4 correct. Sadly, that is a failing grade even in public schools.