Legislation and Market Education
by Steve Gresh, posted August 29, 2002
Some of the criteria that I would want to see included in any legislation for taxpayer-funding of education to foster a free market in education are as follows:
1) The net cost to all taxpayers must be less than it is under the current system. I think a strong case can be made for reducing the taxpayer-funded per-pupil expenditure on education in Colorado by at least 50% within five years of the legislation's enactment.
2) No limitations on parental income or net worth should be used to determine eligibility. I would never support any legislation that would include any new invasions of individuals' financial privacy.
3) How the tax dollars that parents receive for their children's educations can be spent must be completely under the discretion and control of the parents. Home-schooling parents, for example, should not be restricted in any manner from deciding what constitutes an educational expense for their children. Parents who use tax dollars for private school tuition should not be required to even identify the name, location, or type of private school that their children attend.
4) Parents who accept tax dollars for their children's educations must remove their children from the government schools.
5) Dollar-for-dollar tax credits should be available for all taxpayers who contribute money to a private education fund.
"Vouchers" is not an accurate word to describe the legislation that I favor. If we stay focused on the circumstances of home-schooling parents and their children, I believe that it's possible to develop legislation which avoids the pitfalls with taxpayer-funded vouchers that Marshall Fritz decscribes. The legislation that I have in mind would actually result in a check made payable to the parents who remove their children from the government schools. How parents choose to spend that money would be entirely up to them.
The only sound objection I've heard to this proposal is that some parents would spend the money on something other than their children's educations. My answer to that objection is the vast majority of children who have responsible parents should n ot suffer from the government school system just because a minority of parents are irresponsible.
It's my belief that such legislation would foster a free market in education. Once a majority of children are no longer enrolled in government schools, the public will start voting to eliminate all involvement by government in education. Then, it would be politically possible to repeal the legislation that I propose as an interim measure.
Ari Armstrong Replies
If I believed the legislature would pass the measure Gresh describes, I would be all for it.
But I think Gresh is idealizing his proposal. No majority R&D legislature is not going to pass Gresh's measure. If it tried, the outcome would look nothing like what Gresh supports. It would be twisted and contorted until all kinds of strings were attached to the money.
The only way Gresh's proposal could pass is if the majority of the legislature were libertarian. And when that happens, Gresh's proposal will no longer be necessary.
So as a practical matter, I don't see any point to actively backing a law such as Gresh describes. Instead, we need to encourage individual families to engage in market education. This will foster better education and create a strong pro-freedom constituency.