Let’s Imagine a Free Market in Education

by Kurt Dugger

Government: The great fiction whereby everyone endeavors to live off of everyone else. –Frederic Bastiat

What would a free market in education look like? For this mental exercise, we will not make drastic changes, just two small ones. First, government restrictions and requirements on education are removed. Second, half of tax money used for any student who unenrolls from government schools will be returned to the parents. The government will still have full control of what’s taught in their schools.

The first changes will happen simultaneously. Without government restrictions and requirements, many more private educational options will spring up. For example, the stay-at-home-super-mom with a home schooled five-year-old can take on two or three neighborhood kids as students. She earns a small income, and other parents aren’t limited to government schools just because they work. Many parents will like the private curricula better. With the tax money refunded to them, the parents can afford to pay the tuition for the private school of their choice. Now there are fewer children in government schools, which leaves more funding for the children that remain. A person doesn’t need a four year degree to teach basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. It requires patience and caring about your students.

As students progress, the variety of educational choices in a free market will make it easy to tailor programs to specific needs. At the bottom of the page is an example of what an advertising brochure for such a school might look like.

I can’t begin to scratch the surface of the number of different options that will arise, but I do know preventing those options is a major disservice to our youth. If you believe only government is capable of deciding what a child should learn, I urge you to ask a 14-year-old to sign their name, as if on a contract. Those block letters will be impressive. If you believe a government should decide how and where a child is taught, then you believe that government has more rights to the child than the parents. If you believe parents can’t be trusted to know what a child should learn, then you believe a government — which is not even smart enough to make a profit with a monopoly on delivery to mail boxes — should be trusted with those decisions. If you believe only governments can provide for the health and safety of students, I offer you “pink slime” meat served in school lunches and defense-free zones, which criminals are supposed to respect.

Right now government schools fill an important role. I am not advocating eliminating those schools or even changing the way they operate. I am advocating that a parent has more of a right to make decisions affecting their child’s life than any government body. I’m also asking that we recognize that competition in any market is a good thing. It forces higher quality and greater efficiency. Currently education is a market with very little competition.

I’m not attacking teachers in any way. I’m offering them an additional way to market the valuable skills they’ve invested so much time and money to gain. Instead of complaining about low pay in government schools, they could open a classroom in their dining room. Another option could be to partner with other teachers and rent a few classrooms in a church during the week and run their own full service facility -without jumping through government hoops, which make it cost prohibitive.

For those on both sides of the “prayer in school debate,” this would be a solution. For those worried about drugs in schools, it would be difficult to hide selling dope in a school of 30 kids. With online teaching becoming more popular, you wouldn’t need a large population center to sustain a large class.

The education world is changing. We can push for more freedom or for more government control. I believe history provides good examples of where tighter government controls lead. It’s unlikely these examples will be taught in-depth in a government school.