Friday, December 16, 2005

Milton Friedman on School Vouchers

In their 1979 book, “Free to Choose,” Milton and Rose Friedman wrote an essay entitled “What’s Wrong with Our Schools.” It should be required reading for anyone who wishes to debate the current state of the American public school system and the changes which are needed. One of the observations the Friedmans make is this: if every family in every district had the same income and wealth, then schools could simply be paid for by tuition assessments while each family had kids in school.

But that’s not the way things are. There is a broad spectrum of wealth and income, and those with wealth are prone to form exclusive (i.e. discriminatory) communities with other wealthy families. In this country, we may not discriminate by race, creed, color, or national origin, but we most certainly discriminate by wealth.
The cost the wealthy bear for being allowed to perpetrate that discrimination is that they must pay a ransom, in the form of school taxes, which is used to subsidize schools in poor neighborhoods.

Here in Ohio, schools are funded by a mixture of local taxes and state taxes. The local school district may collect both property and income taxes, although most use property taxes alone. The state tax is entirely income based. While the local taxes collected remain within the district, the state redistributes the income taxes it collects in inverse proportion to the taxes collected locally. The residents of wealthy districts pay out much more state income tax than they receive back, with most of their state income tax money going to the poor districts.

Why doesn’t this socialist approach to funding work? Because crummy schools run by inept administrators get money anyway! The urban district in our city spends more per child than many of the suburban districts, yet is among the worst districts in our state in terms of attendance, graduation, college admission and on standardized testing.

Giving that district more money won’t solve the problem. Giving the parents and kids a choice WHERE they go to school will. A voucher system as outlined by the Friedmans can work.

Let’s give it a try.

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