Current Events

School Choice

This week is National School Choice Week. School choice is a subject we haven’t really discussed on this blog. But (at least in my own case), that’s a product of a relative lack of expertise, rather than a lack of interest. Bleeding Heart Libertarians care about the way in which freedom can serve the interests of the vulnerable, and a) children are about as vulnerable as you can get, and b) education looks like a domain in which a little freedom can go a long way.

So, in honor of the week, here are a couple links worth taking a look at.

First, LearnLiberty has just released a new graphically animated piece on the importance of educational freedom, What You Should Know about School Choice with Professor Angela Dills.

Second, the heroic Institute for Justice just announced a victory in Arizona, upholding education savings accounts for children with special needs.

What do you think, readers? Any reason for BHL-types not to get on board the school choice wagon enthusiastically? Philosophically, the issue of the proper legal status of children raises a lot of difficult issues. But this, to me at least, doesn’t seem like a hard case at all.

  • School Choice movement in India….

  • Ann

    Not a fan of it. At all. But then, I’m all about equality.  Also, I have a kid with special needs.   We will wind up with more ‘special needs’ schools, I bet (based on what you showed about AZ) which will make us go backwards as far as educating kids with special needs is concerned. Warehousing people again.  And if you don’t think this will wind up segregating people? That’s plain blind.  Not every parent will have the ability to navigate a ‘school choice’ system,  and of course when you talk about transient students, which are in greater numbers with low income students, they’re going to get stuck in the ‘regular’ public schools, where they will get a substandard education once you take all their money away, just like the nonsense going on with charter schools now.  Sure, hurt the most vulnerable. If we’re lucky, they’ll just take a bullet in a schoolyard and we won’t have to worry any more.  And then you can stick my kid in an institution and make believe he’s not human.

    • I’m not sure how it worked in your high school or in your child’s school, but in mine, even though the special needs kids were in the same building, they were highly segregated. My high school had one of the state’s highest-rated special ed programs, but  the special needs kids were for the most part kept in their own segregated classrooms, in their own segregated part of the building, and with fewer teachers than what were needed. Every once in a while a very mild case would take regular classes. You probably know better than I do as the parent of a special needs child, but I feel like those children would be better served in a school that’s fully dedicated to meeting their needs.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve spent much of my life creating small private and charter schools that individualized education, including Montessori-based schools, and often these schools had a special ed population of roughly 30%.  Although none of the private schools had staff trained in special ed, many parents preferred a highly individualized program for their child rather than forcing their children through a conventional “one size fits all” model with IEPs.  And I saw special ed children flourish emotionally and intellectually in such an environment.  Based on my personal experience, your expectation is false.  People like me, if allowed, would create far more personalized and individualized educational programs that would serve most special ed students far better than does the existing system.

  • One of the side effects of government involvement in schools — especially at the levels of the state and federal government, but this is true too in large districts, like Dallas — is public choice problems arise. You have any number of people trying to sell their “new” way of teaching this or that subject (to sell their textbooks, of course), with the result that our schools do little more than chase fad after fad after fad. The result is every bad idea one can imagine gets its day, and yet another batch of kids receive terrible educations.

    I have experienced “inclusion” firsthand. It may marginally benefit “special needs” kids, but it does so at the expense of the rest of the kids in the class. We are too willing to sacrifice 24 kids in the class to the one with special needs, and I don’t see how one can make that moral argument. I would also argue that in a system with school choice, schools would arise that could and would love to actually educate special needs kids of all kinds. We get harmful discriminatory policies not from the market, but from the government.

  • Anonymous

    School choice, in all its variants, mostly and merely changes who is privileged by access to the tax and regulatory spigot. Often couched in market rhetoric, not one school choice reformer (ok, maybe one)advocates removing tax funding or state regulatory authority. The irony is that these reforms– most having Progressive Era roots,  would move the system toward the place that early 20th century more market based big business sought through the use of the state’s ability to destroy competition.  Call it neo-mercantilism.

    Further irony is that the traditional public school advocates derisively label the School Choicers as evil free marketers out for evil profit. The truth is that the old schoolers and School Choicers are both out for profit– just not via truly free market means!   Further further irony is that you have luminaries, like historian Diane Ravitch, admitting that the public-private partnership is fascist– not to be brought to these shores— while holding up Finland as the model to be replicated!   (note: apologies to Paul Gottfried for using ‘fascist’ a little fast and loose).

    • Anonymous

      I started out as a public school reformer working in Chicago Public Schools in 1989, then after four years of working in public schools realized that lasting and scalable improvements there were impossible.  I then became an advocate of “school choice,” including charter schools, until I created a charter school in 2002-2004 (which was ranked the 36th best public high school in the U.S.).  After creating a charter school and discovering how deeply the bureaucracy prevented real high quality innovations from scaling and improving, I limited my school choice advocacy to vouchers and tax credits.  In the past few years I’ve concluded that vouchers will also create a regulatory framework that will destroy innovation.  Today I still support tuition tax credits, in hopes that they could be implemented with a minimum of regulatory control, but I am also now a signatory of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State.

      My education blog is here,

      • Anonymous

        Nice to hear from someone who has seen combat. I have added your blog to my Favorites.

  • Aeon Skoble

    As Angela points out in the vid you linked to, school choice is right in the BHL zone – school choice is the better way for a variety of liberty-based reasons, but ESPECIALLY if you’re concerned about the most at-risk students and families.

  • Aeon Skoble

    As Angela points out in the vid you linked to, school choice is right in the BHL zone – school choice is the better way for a variety of liberty-based reasons, but ESPECIALLY if you’re concerned about the most at-risk students and families.

  • I think my answer is mostly “it depends.”

    I’m fine with school choice so long as public schools in the system provide transportation for kids that choose not to attend the school closest to them. I know this brings up the whole bussing debate, but school choice is effectively worthless to the kids you’re claiming it will help if they’re still stuck in their neighborhood school because their parents lack either the time or money to transport them to a better school in a different area. If we’re keeping public schools in the public domain, bussing should be part of that.

    • Anonymous

      Are public schools helping or harming parents concerning time and money?  How do you know?

      • I don’t know, but either way, they would still exist in a school choice system. One of the main arguments against the segregation proponents is that school choice doesn’t only make private schools better, but improves public schools as well through competition. The idea is that public schools would be competing not only with private schools, but also with other public schools. But public schools are government entities, and react differently to market forces than private entities do. In addition, they’re obligated as a public school to take anyone, where a private school has the option to reject students…and eliminating that option wouldn’t exactly be a free market approach, but rather would make private schools de facto charter schools. If you want public schools to compete, you have to consider that they’re public entities and provide them with at least enough funds to bus in any kids that want to go there.

        • Anonymous

          Then what would be the point of adding competition if one would just have to subsidize even more, e.g. adding bussing. Why not add healthcare, housing, food and entertainment?  Is it really fair to even use the term “market” with school choice?

          • Well, no, it’s not fair to use the term “market.” Perhaps “more market-like” or “market simulating” would be better.

            To clarify, I’m not saying to add bussing to private schools. I’m saying that if you’re going to actually have school choice, public and charter schools have to be able to bus students in that want to attend. It’s their duty under that system as a publicly owned institution. Otherwise it’s not choice, it’s just a few more well-off parents getting to send their kids to another school. And honestly, those parents probably already live in that school zone anyway. Without bussing, school choice doesn’t do much at all.

            And, realistically, bussing would probably be transitional anyway. With school choice, you’re likely to get more private schools in poorer areas, since that’s where they’d stand to gain the most. And, to maximize profit, those private schools would probably bus using their own funds. (The private schools in my area do.)

            And, if school choice really cuts costs as well as its proponents claim, surely the cost of extra bussing would be more than offset by the cutting of costs elsewhere, right?

          • Anonymous

            Thanks. To get an accurate picture of costs there needs to be profit/loss sheets. Traditional public schools are ruled out. For profit/loss to make sense socially they must be based on real market exchange between unique and legitimate property owners–which is lacking in charter/voucher schools to the degree they receive tax money and government regulation.

      • Nate’s point was that most public school attendees go to a school near where they live — usually that is dictated by laws or rules of some kind. If you give students an opportunity to go to any school they can get into, but their parents lack the time or money to transport them to that school every day, it is not much of an opportunity. 

  • Michael Zigismund

    I recently came across some interesting thoughts from Roderick Long (2006), who was discussing Rothbard’s political strategy:

    Some “reforms are rejected not because they are incremental but because they do not really move in the direction of liberty.

    “One example is education vouchers, which as Rothbardians we find problematic not because they fall short of a free market in education but because they threaten to extend to the private schools the kind of micromanagement control that government currently exercises — thus arguably making things worse. Another is so-called “privatization,” not in the term’s original sense of a transfer of services from government provision to free-market provision, but in what has come to be the prevailing sense of a conferral of governmental privilege and patronage — subsidies, monopolies, and the like — on private contractors. To the Rothbardian, far from stripping government of some of its powers, such “privatization” simply transforms private firms into arms of the state.

    “Now whether a shift from a comparatively socialistic to a comparatively fascistic mode of statism is a move up or a move down is perhaps a matter of taste; but at any rate we do the libertarian cause no favor by encouraging potential converts to associate plutocratic political cronyism with the free market. (Similar criticisms apply to “deregulation” when the entities being deregulated are the beneficiaries of state privilege, as when the Reagan administration eased restrictions on Savings & Loans while keeping federal deposit insurance intact, thus giving them carte blanche to take risks with the taxpayers’ money.)”

    I was very much for any kind of school choice, but now I understand that strategy and method are crucial considerations.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t consider Arizona a paragon of school choice or intellectual/academic freedom considering their recent attack on Ethnic studies classes.

  • David Jabotinsky

    Coming from a distinctly BHL perspective (roughly equivalent to “left-libertarian” in my understading), I can see a few reasons to be nervous about school choice depending on how its structured.

    Children are not fully-formed, rational beings of course so they do not have the same wide lattitude of self-determination that liberals accord to adults.

    While conventional or “right-”  libertarians might think of children as being very nearly akin to the “property” of their parents, it would seem to me that a BHLibertarian would have to take “the best interests of the child” more seriously.

    In many ways, the objections of conventional (left-) liberals would obtain here.  Imagine that a family of religious extremists somehow acquires property in the middle of an affluent town where schools are safe, well-managed, well-funded, etc.  Now the parent decides that they do not like some of the “progressive” values of the school and so the child will be home-schooled.  At home school, the child is taught Young Earth Creationism, Religious Extremism, Civic Indifference, Racial Enmity, et. al.  Perhaps Math and English are banished from the curriculum.

    These sorts of decisions may facilitate parental satisfaction but they negatively impact the welfare of the child.  In the words of the late Joel Feinberg, they circumscribe the child’s right to an open future.

    Stephen Macedo has argued that liberal norms do not merely grow up like weeds but must be cultivated like flowers via universal public education and enculturation of habits of the heart.

    Liberal Civic Education and Religious Fundamentalism: The Case of God v. John Rawls? Stephen Macedo. Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 3. (Apr., 1995) …
    See also:  Diversity and Distrust, also by Macedo.Ultimately, I think the empirics of the matter must lead us to embrace school choice but if you set the battlefield of the argument on the plane of pure abstraction (Why the heck would you do that?!?), one could easily make a case that school choice is, on net, illiberal.

    • Anonymous

      Home-schooling plays no part in the school choice movement.

      • The Woman

        Sure.  But that in no way addresses his actual point: just gsr “home schooled” with “sent to a religious private school”.

        Without making any comment as to whether they’re wrong or right in thinking so, one of the popular arguments on the left against school choice programs is that private religious schools (e.g. Catholic parochial schools) are permitted to participate, that would be a stealth way for religions to get public money to proselytize — and a violation of the separation of church and state.

        • Anonymous

          You definitely earn the capital The on your moniker.

          True. In many ways these high-liberal, as prof John Tomasi calls them, leftist critics are right. One should not stop there, though. Government involvement in private schools would also be corrupting of faith institutions. The only way out- is to get the state out of education altogether.

          Too many high liberals use ‘Separation’ as a bludgeon to destroy faith institutions. It is really secular state worship at work. Public schools are a prime example by virtue of e.g. unfair competition creating a captured audience that are dis-, un-, re-, and non-  educated by a self-serving politically monopolistic greedy system.

          It has always been the main aim of the modern public school to be a tool of state control. Bismarck used compulsory education to suppress Catholicism.  The proseltyzers of the public system here in the states were almost all PhD’d in Germany or were students of someone PhD’d in Germany. Following, the Progressive Era explosion of public schooling in the US was motivated by the desire of elite Blue Blood Protestants to control the new immigrant populations coming in droves from Europe– many of them Catholic. (this went hand-in-hand with the temperance movement too, wink wink.)

          • The Woman

            “The only way out- is to get the state out of education altogether.”

            That’s pretty much where I find myself!  “The Separation of School and State” is what we call it.  See (which I can’t entirely vouch for, but you might find interesting.)

            “Too many high liberals use ‘Separation’ as a bludgeon to destroy faith institutions.”

            …You know, there’s a vast, vast list of things I’m willing to lay at the feet of government-run schooling, upto and including the possible collapse of the Republic.  But this, I’m just not seeing this.  Admittedly, I’m not too concerned about it; I tend to think that where the provision of social services are concerned, faith organizations need to be careful where they put their toes if they don’t want them stepped on.  But I’m open to argument.

            “Public schools are a prime example by virtue of e.g. unfair competition
            creating a captured audience that are dis-, un-, re-, and non- 
            educated by a self-serving politically monopolistic greedy system.”

            This assumes there would be a market for education that public schools, being tuition free, undercut.  That’s one possibility.

            But historically, the tension has been between public schooling and work.   Labor supported mandatory schooling to get kids out of the work force and by reducing supply increase wages.  Age protectionism, if you will.

            Furthermore, public schools have a linchpin role in our economy: they are state-subsidized childcare for the middle class, without which the middle class mostly couldn’t afford their own children.  Forget the whole educational dimension of schools for a moment: they’re who takes care of your kid so you and your spouse (if you have one) can work.  If the government stopped subsidizing childcare, we wouldn’t suddenly have a vast influx of money out of private pockets to pay for education.  Most people simply cannot afford it; they balance their household budgets on the fact that the government will look after their kids for about 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week, for free.

            (This is part of the genius of the school choice movement — it’s about letting parents take their tax dollars with them, so it’s economically feasible to send your kid to some other school, thus making a competitive market at least theoretically possible.)

            So while I expect our free public schools are depressing the price of schooling, I don’t think that we’d see a huge boom if they went away, because while people might want to send their kids to schools, they haven’t the money to do so.  Instead we’d see a lot of adults quit their jobs to care for their kids, and a lot of kids brought into workplace situations, and probably illegally put to work.

            “It has always been the main aim of the modern public school to be a
            tool of state control. Bismarck used compulsory education to suppress
            Catholicism.  […] Following, the Progressive Era explosion of public schooling
            in the US was motivated by the desire of elite Blue Blood
            Protestants to control the new immigrant populations coming in droves
            from Europe– many of them Catholic.”

            By suppressing Catholicism via using public schools to explicitly teach their children Protestantism.  Yeah, they did that here, too.

          • Anonymous

            Great reply, again.

            I forgot about the anti-competitive motive of labor in its support of sticking kids in school. Good point.  The school as baby-sitter model too.

            The secular bludgeon of public school is via displacement mostly. If a parent’s earnings have to pay for the public school even if they want to send their kids to private– that cripples opportunities. Just the sheer amount of resources that go into public school takes away private capital formation on an enormous scale. It’s the biggest thing on any local government budget. Hence, 90% of children attend public. Then there is the public school propaganda biasing the public school view.

            Then there is the purely economic angle. Public schools, even if run by angelic experts, are not fit means toward ends. They have no recourse to economic calculation. Taxation and monopoly kill this mental process because it needs past prices and profit/loss to work. There is no feedback for, or even proper rational means of, resource allocation. Sure, they can throw money and technology in all directions. But that is not the point. They cannot know what is socially feasible– what kind of education? what intensity? what is the most socially valued use of resources? Public school types claim to know these things— and go to great lengths to show how statistics and democracy prove their points, though. They do not know the economic question to begin with.

            This said, who knows what kind of  education would be demanded by the public if government schools went away. But it is like answering the question, “What will the patient do if cured of cancer?” 

          • Anonymous

            There is the incentive angle too. As privileged tax-feeders, public school employees are not incentivized to serve customers. There aren’t any. Plus, public employees do not own the resources they use– so are very much more likely not to care about them. This goes for how government treats children and how children treat their environment as well.

    • Anonymous

      I agree 100% that, as you say, “liberal norms do not merely grow up like weeds but must be cultivated”.  I agree that if we let parents stunt their children’s opportunities for education, they are permanently harming the “child’s right to an open future”, which implies that there are itemizable educational opportunities which adults have an ethical duty to provide to their children.

      I agree entirely that these things are all completely true.

      And.  At the same time:  You realize you are proposing that the government set standards for how the citizenry be schooled to think, yes?  They may be the bestest, most liberal, liberty-cultivating ways of thinking ever held in the minds of man, but we are discussing the state arrogating to itself the right to determine how the citizens should think.

      This makes my skin crawl.  Sure, maybe they’re awesome liberal norm cultivating beliefs promulgated at gun point today, but, uh, are we sure we want to be giving the state the power to arbitrate right thinking?  What’s the old standard rule of thumb?  “Would you feel as enthusiastic about this proposed governmental power if it fell in the hands of your worst political enemy?”

      I have no answer for you on this one.  Myself, I find the conflict of these goods agonizing and intractable and perhaps fundamentally inevitable.  I don’t know how to resolve the conflict.  I want to protect kids from their parents amputating their futures, and I want to protect the right of adults to think for themselves without the government trying to control their minds, and I see no way of doing both.

      • I love this post. It points out the truly complex nature of the entire issue of education.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think you are entitled to help yourself to the assumption that liberal norms are more likely to be inculcated in public rather than private schools. There is plenty of intolerance within secular elites, e.g. Obamacare requiring hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church to dispense free birth control, even though this obviously violates Catholic teachings. In my home state of Washington, pharmacists must, despite their moral objections, dispense the “Plan B” abortion pill or lose their license. Secular bigots in San Francisco tried to criminalize circumcision, etc.  If you want to have this debate, let’s have it, but we don’t start with “I’m right and your wrong.”

      Moreover, by your logic the state should regulate what is taught in all schools, including home schools, because parents can’t be trusted. And giving the state such power could never lead to abuse, because…

  • Kevin McDonough

    There’s actually a lot of good stuff on school choice that should be of interest to BHL types.  Harry Brighouse’s School Choice and Social Justice and Adam Swift’s School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent are the two best books on the subject – philosophically speaking.   Both books offer a highly qualified defense of school choice.   They’re liberal egalitarians and not libertarians of any stripe, but the arguments are ones that BHL types can certainly engage with.

    • Thanks, Kevin. I’ve heard good things about both, but haven’t yet found the time to read either. I should, though.

      • Kevin McDonough

        It would be great to see another post here on this after you or one of the other in house bloggers takes a more serious interest in the literature on this issue.   The thing that’s surprising to me is that discussions of school choice are by now pretty mainstream in contemporary political philosophy and they include pretty rich engagement with empirical evidence on the effects of school choice and vouchers.  Libertarian types have been involved in school choice debates for a long time — Chubb and Moe being perhaps the most recent well known figures.   Anyway, the issues here are complex and it’s surprising to see smart BHL folks like Fernando below calling the issue a no-brainer.  

        It seems to me that no one even passingly familiar with the issue should see it as a no-brainer except perhaps someone who is committed a priori to a completely non-regulatory role for the state in education regardless of its actual effects on the liberty of children — especially children whose parents won’t be in a position to to ensure that their kids benefit from voucher programs.   The problem is that once we recognize that the state has to play some regulatory role then the difference between vouchers and the current system starts to erode.   My point is not that BHL doesn’t have an important role to play in this debate — i’d be fascinated to see it articulated.   My point is that no BHL perspective worth its salt will be a no-brainer!



        • Anonymous

          I have read Moe-Hill and see neoliberalism. Not libertarianism. Not even close. It may seem libertarian relative to the government bureaucratic system now in place. But what wouldn’t?

        • Anonymous

          You say: “…especially children whose parents won’t be in a position to to ensure that their kids benefit from voucher programs.” Is it your position (or that of the authorities that you cite) that unless a voucher system benefits all (or most) children in the public schools, it should not be adopted, even if it benefits some while not making any children worse off in absolue (not relative terms)? Since all the voucher proposals with which I am familiar would allow parents to leave their children in place, I am not sure how vouchers could worsen the position of these students. Just out of curiousity, are you familiar with the “levelling down” objection to “pure” (or strict) egalitarian theories of justice?  

          • The Woman

            While I make no comment on the veracity of the claim, opponents of voucher programs claim that they do indeed imperil the schools from which able students flee.  The problems being that (1) the moneys being pulled out of the school to go with the students departing it are actually technically (for some complicated administrative/political reason having to do with differing sources of funding) larger for the school losing them than the school getting them  and (2) that if you have a school of 100 kids, and 25 leave, you can’t just lop off a quarter of your building: you’re stuck heating a building meant for 100 kids with the funds for 75.  Sometimes problem #2 is addressed by renting a quarter of the space to the school for 25 students.  That trick doesn’t always work, and has been bitterly resisted in at least one case (colorfully documented in the documentary movie “The Lottery” (2010)) on the grounds that the children who didn’t luck into the charter school via lottery shouldn’t have to have their noses rubbed in the superior education and resources of the kids who did by putting them down the hall.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think (1) is accurate. First your description is confusing: a dollar is a dollar is a dollar–you are simply moving it from one pocket to another. Maybe I am missing the point, but I need more details to be convinced. Also, and probably more substantively, all of the voucher programs/proposals I have seen are not dollar for dollar, i.e. if it costs on average $10,000 per pupil to educate a student in the district, the voucher provided is substantially less than this amount. This does not diminish the effectiveness of the program because private/parochial schools tend to charge less per student anyway.

            The lower dollar value of the voucher relative to the cost of the public education also addresses pt. (2). With the financial effect of the vouchers, the public school actually ends up with more money per kid to educate the ones that stay put.  In any case, there should be no “lucking into” a charter (or private) school. That option should be available to all disadvantaged kids.

          • The Woman

            Taking this in reverse order:

            “In any case, there should be no “lucking into” a charter (or private) school. That option should be available to all disadvantaged kids.”

            Well, that’s nice that you feel that way (I certainly feel similarly), but let’s not confuse what was heretofore a discussion of facts with feelings.  It’s important to establish how things actually are before building preferences for how they should be, or you’ll wind up wasting one of your three wishes on something you already have but didn’t like so much.

            “all of the voucher programs/proposals I have seen are not dollar for
            dollar, i.e. if it costs on average $10,000 per pupil to educate a
            student in the district, the voucher provided is substantially less than this amount. […] With the financial effect of the vouchers, the public school actually
            ends up with more money per kid to educate the ones that stay put.”

            Er, noooo.  If it costs the town $10,000 to educate a pupil, and a charter comes along that can educate her for $7,000, her original school doesn’t get to keep the remaining $3,000!

            (Are you new at school funding?)

            Schools are allocated their money per student.  Our hypothetical school is given $10,000 to educate that student only if she attends that school.  If she attends the charter school down the street, her old school gets paid nothing at all.  So even if the charter school is only paid $7,000 to educate her,  her old school gets the remainder of $0.  Where does that extra $3,000 go?  Back to the general fund, probably — the state happily discovers that the “schools” line item in its budget was $3k high, and they didn’t actually need to spend that money.

            “Maybe I am missing the point, but I need more details to be convinced. ”

            You seem to have provided an example yourself.

            I’ll just add — clearly I’m the wrong person to be explaining this, as here my knowledge is spotty — that when the latest round of charter school controversy erupted in my neighborhood, the antis were saying something I seem to recall was along the lines of “the state provides our district $7,000/student, but then the Feds provide $3,000/student, and only the state money moves with the student to the new school; the Fed money just disappears back into Washington.  Thus each $7,000 voucher actually costs us $10,000.”

          • The Woman

            P.S. My apologies if I’m pissing in your proverbial Wheaties.  I’m generally in favor of school choice, myself.  I just don’t think that arguing with strawmen does us any good, either for ourselves or for advancing our cause.  The other side has points; it behooves us to find out what they are, not make light of them, consider them seriously, and then address them if we find fault in them.

          • Anonymous

            And I thought I had. In your example, the voucher program hurts the existing public school because it shorts it on heating costs for its now too large building. Yet, you concede that the general fund gets an extra $3000 per kid as a result of the vouchers. Is your argument that we not grant vouchers because the state pockets the $3k rather than reversing the hypothetical financial drain on that public school. That sounds like a good argument for getting the state entirely out of the education business.
            Sorry, maybe I’m just a sentimentalist, but I see a moral imperative for disadvantaged kids to get a decent education, which the public schools have failed to provide even though we spend more per student, including in poor school districts, than almost any other country. There is tons of data on this, which I will be happy to refer you to upon request. Also, see my comment to Fernando below.

          • Damien S.

            Thing is, those other countries, that get better results while spending less, *also* use public schools.  Why should a pragmatist look to private schooling as opposed to looking at the differences between US public schools and Finnish ones?

            As for funding, not only is the public school getting less funding after the vouchers take some way, but it’s likely being left with the more disadvantaged and problematic students, such as the ones whose parents don’t care, or who have behavior problems that get them rejected by private or charter schools.

          • Anonymous

            First, please see my responses to Kevin, The Woman and Fernando. Second, according to the most recent PISA data, we spend the second most per child in elementary education and the 4th most in secondary education, yet rank 17th in science and 25th in math. Of all the countries that out-perform us, for some reason you want to look at Finland. Not only is this tiny country different from our own in about a million important ways, but there is no chance we will import their system. That’s why Finland doesn’t matter for this purpose. Within our system, vouchers are the best answer.

            As to you last point, you are basically saying that some disruptive and problematic children hold back the education of “normal” kids. And therefore the kids that want to learn should not be allowed to use vouchers. As John McEnroe used to say, “Are you serious!??” If this is the case, the public schools should be segregating these kids into special classes appropriate to their behavioral problems, not punishing the children who want to learn.

          • Kevin McDonough

            Mark – to your first question I’m basically Rawlsian about all this — what school choice or voucher plans should do, if they are justified on egalitarian grounds, is to improve the position (in both relative and absolute terms) of those kids who are least well off (part of the argument here is that the interests of children are, ethically speaking, both distinct from those of their parents and distinct from adults generally).  If that leaves the most advantaged no worse off in absolute terms, or even if it leaves them better off in absolute terms, then that is good.  You now know for sure what you already suspected– I’m not a libertarian.   As is evident from the above, I also think the levelling down objection is not a compelling one in this case — on this, I agree with Brighouse and Swift.But I made my point above not to articulate or defend my own position, but because I was under the impression that BHLs – as distinct from simple Ls —  would have some concern for improving the (absolute) lot of those students who are least advantaged (not to say that they would be Rawlsian about it) and would want to take that into account in their views about school choice.  I’d like to see if this is true and if someone here might be interested in articulating in a fuller and more informed way (that is informed by engagement with liberal egalitarians who already HAVE studied these matters extensively — and who, by the way, have engaged with the arguments of libertarians like Nozick).  One of the things that intrigues me about BHL is that it aspires to, and often seems able to,  move beyond familiar conservative ideological talking points of American political (and educational) debates.  As a philosopher of education, I’d like to see that happen here.  Not trying to be obnoxious outsider here.  But I would be genuinely interested to see a contemporary libertarian (read: BHL) defense of school vouchers that engages the other way as seems to happen in other important political issues.  One interesting question is whether BHL conclusions about school vouchers would differ substantially from the liberal egalitarian position being staked out in spite of the different ethical premises of the two camps.   They might — I guess they probably would.  But as I suggest in my comment to Fernando below, the difference wouldn’t be a pro vs. anti-voucher position.  It would have to be a pro vs. pro difference.Also, to add to The Woman’s account of voucher opponents’ objections below, the educational problem is not just that MONEY is being pulled out of some public schools when school voucher programs are put in place;  the problem is that good, motivated and talented students and their families and all the educational benefits that go with them are being pulled out. Apologies for a too long post.

          • Kevin McDonough

            Not sure why my paragraph separations got muddled above.  Apologies for that too.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks for the reply. If one of the BHL decides to engage in a grand BHL/Rawlsian dialectic on this subjdect, I will be all ears. As a Nozick-style libertarian, I see the issue through a different moral lens, and feel no need to justify my views from the egalitarian perspective.

            Briefly, on your last point. You seem to be saying that if A and B (both from the worst-off class) are both given the opportunity to use vocuhers for their children’s education, and A elects to do so, while B does not, then A should be denied this opportunity because of the indirect and unintentional effect it will have on B and her kids. If this is your view, then, for me, to state it is to refute it.

            However, if you want more, I would say that by holding A and her child’s future hostage in this way you are using her, in violation of Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative, solely as a means and not as an end. Rawls fancied himself a Kantian, but I believe he would be hard-pressed to defend this policy in these terms.

          • The Woman

            However, if you want more, I would say that by holding A and her child’s future hostage in this way you are using her, in violation of Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative, solely as a means and not as an end.

            YES YES YES. THIS.

            “It’s so tragic that the death of little Suzie’s father derailed her education, that we’re going to derail yours, too, in the name of fairness.”  Oh no.  Oh no no no no no.

            Forgive me for sounding a bit Randian, but children are not sacrificial animals.

            If there aren’t enough lifeboats to go around, we hold a lottery to find out who gets seats.  We do not say that if there isn’t room for everyone, everyone has to stay on the sinking ship.

          • Anonymous

            Except that’s not what’s going on. We’re auctioning off the lifeboat seats.

            And everyone else is pointing out that, perhaps, we should spend our money fixing the damn boat, instead of building more lifeboats to then auction off.

            There is nothing wrong with the school system that salary and policy changes in public schools would not fix.

  • Fernando Teson

    School vouchers is a no-brainer for me. What I find interesting is that opponents of school vouchers don’t give any egalitarian argument. Indeed, on egalitarian grounds vouchers are preferable to what we have; that’s why poor families support them. When you talk about the issue, the Left suddenly forgets about their egalitarian commitments and bring up separation of church and state. I ask: if the central concern of liberal egalitarianism is the improvement of the poor, why can’t the principle of separation of church and state be at least balanced against that concern? Weird.

    • Anonymous

      By supporting vouchers, don’t you forfeit your right to claim “free markets” on the BHL banner? 

      • Not if you think that education is within the proper domain of a state government. It seems that all 50 US states think so, as they all have public education written into their Constitutions.

        • Anonymous

          There is no limit to what people with Constitutional power might consider the legitimate domain of the state. As an empirical point, public education is now the domain of every level of government you can think of. Except self-government.

          “A tax supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state.”  Isabel Paterson

      • No.

        • Anonymous

          Market socialism is not the same as free markets.  How are government vouchers market phenomena?

          • A system of public education with school choice is not a free market. But it is arguably a better and more free system than a system of public education without vouchers. Would I prefer a totally free market? Sure. But since that’s not on the table, and vouchers are, I don’t see how supporting the latter means that I “forfeit my right to claim ‘free markets’ on the BHL banner.”

          • Anonymous

            Ok. I am not settled on this matter. I will say that Mussolini fascism is definitely preferable to Leninist Bolshevism.

    • The Woman

      “What I find interesting is that opponents of school vouchers don’t give any egalitarian argument.”

      That’s just factually incorrect.  Opponents of school vouchers argue — vociferously — that school choice will ruin public schools predominantly in those areas which are most impoverished.  Have you not watched “The Lottery” (2010)?   The argument against church and state separation is hardly their only objection, and obviously doesn’t obtain to the case of secular for-profit or charter schools which they also oppose.

      Additionally, they argue (less often and less vociferously) that school choice unfairly advantages kids from homes where parents get involved and do things like comparison-shop available schools; in poor and immigrant neighborhoods, parents might not be able (for reasons such as language barrier or working multiple jobs or disability) to participate in such a market of choices; and, of course, some parents are crack-smoking layabouts who can’t be bothered; and that thus when schools are abandoned by activist, involved families, the quality of the school collapses, and the kids stuck there through no fault of their own are the ones punished.

      We may disagree with those arguments, but we can hardly claim they aren’t making them.

      P.S. You assume both the central commitment of the Left is egalitarianism, and that the the separation of church and state isn’t a matter of egalitarianism. I’m not sure those assumptions are prudent.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed.  Since having children is a voluntary act, parents should accept responsibility for educating their children w/o state support. Just as they are expected to feed, house and clothe them w/o burdening their fellow citizens, they should also educate them to a basic standard, using whatever means they select, w/o  interference by or subsidy from the state.

      However, children born to parents who cannot educate them because of financial or other reasons are potentially innocent victims of parental irresponsibility and should not suffer because of this. Also, with respect to this subclass of children, I believe the “public good” argument may correctly be invoked. Therefore, vouchers are the best solution here.

      If I were even more cynical than I already am, I would suggest that affluent liberals prefer the present system because of purely selfish reasons. They know their kids will get a great basic education either in private school or at their equivalent of Beverly Hills High. Kids from more modest backgrounds won’t. Therefore, less competition for little Johnny as he makes his way through life.

      On the subject of cynicism, here is what the future President Obama said about our public schools in 1995 when he was still fresh from the streets (Dreams From My Father, pp. 256-7):

      “The biggest source of resistance [to educational reform] was rarely talked about though–namely, the uncomfortable fact that every one of our churches was filled with teachers, principles, and district superintendents. Few of these educators sent their own children to public schools; they knew too much for that. But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.”

      Right, the folks responsible for educating the disadvantaged kids from inner-city Chicago won’t subject their own children to the “education” they are paid to provide (parochial school anyone?), but they will fight like hell to deny others the same opportunity they enjoy. Funny how I haven’t heard the president say anything like this lately.

    • Kevin McDonough

      Fernando, I think at least once you get a bit beyond the ‘ripped from the headlines’ debates the question is not really any longer whether one is ‘for’ or ‘against’ school vouchers or school choice policies.   It’s a question of what sort of school voucher program (if any) can be made to fit with egalitarian principles.   Again, Harry Brighouse is probably the g0-to guy for egalitarian arguments on school choice.  Harry’s book and some of his scattered articles have, in my view, been instrumental in shifting the scholarly debate in this direction (he’s offers a highly qualified defense of school choice policies  on carefully articulated egalitarian grounds).   I suspect a BHL position would reject HB’s conclusions, but the question of what a BHL position on this question would be is a) interesting to consider and b) far from a no-brainer!

  • JH

    I support school choice. But there are legitimate concerns about vouchers from a libertarian perspective. Vouchers increase the regulation of private schools. When public money goes to private schools, regulations follow.

    Andrew Coulson at CATO has done good work on this. See, for instance:

    But school choice means more than vouchers. And voucher programs may be all-things-considered justified, despite their disadvantages.

  • Anonymous

    On the subject of school choice, I highly recommend the documentary Waiting For Superman.

    Daniel Shapiro

    • The Woman

       Which is now available for streaming on Netflix.  I’ve been meaning to get the round tuits to see that; maybe I will today.

  • Anonymous

    On the subject of school choice, I highly recommend the documentary Waiting For Superman.

    Daniel Shapiro

  • Anonymous

    Remember that public school teachers and administrators do not pay taxes. Money that goes back to another area of the government was previously taxed away from productive sources. Further, public teachers disproportionately send their kids to private schools. How ’bout that.

    • The Woman

      “Remember that public school teachers and administrators do not pay taxes.”

      They don’t?  I’ve never heard such a thing before.  Cite, please?

      • Anonymous

        No cite needed. Where does their salary come from? Taxes. That money is already corrupted. So what if some of it goes back to the original expropriator under the label ‘tax’.

      • Anonymous

        Mind you, my criticism is not personal. Some of my favorite people have been public school teachers. I also know that many of them are even more frustrated with the system than me.