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January 16, 2006

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» Epstein on Florida School Vouchers: from The Volokh Conspiracy
Richard Epstein has an excellent post over at the Chicago Law Faculty Blog on the state supreme court decision invalidating Florida's voucher ... [Read More]

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James

Here's a problem.

Imagine that it costs Florida $5,000 per year to educate a student. Imagine that the voucher system gives a student $4,500 in vouchers. Clearly, the public schools benefit by $500 every time someone opts out. Students who opt out benefit by assumption, while students who don't opt out get teachers who are more motivated to do a good job. Funding levels, meanwhile, are maintained because the costs of the vouchers are lower than the cost of educating students.

This ignores a crucial factor. There are already lots of kids in private schools. Not only do the public schools lose $4,500 for each new student who opts out, they lose $4,500 for all the students currently enrolled in private or parochial schools. Now we face the possiblity that per-student funding in public schools will have to fall drastically to pay for all those students who previously were in private schools but not subsidized. All this assumes that it would be unthinkable to give vouchers to current public school students but not to current private school students; I think that is a reasonable assumption given the unfairness that would otherwise result (families would essentially be punished for having acted early to get their kids into private schools).

Now, you could argue that voters will understand all this and raise taxes accordingly. Fine, but this would be a transfer to families with children who were already in private school. Those families will probably, on average, be richer than average.

I think it's clear, then, that liberals might oppose this policy even if they are not enamored of public monopolies. They fear that the rich will get cheaper private education for their children while the public schools will be stripped of funding (to pay for vouchers for students already in private school). Religious schools will indoctrinate students with public money. Good private schools will screen carefully, so that the public system is left with students with behavior problems. Really good private schools will either turn down vouchers entirely or charge much more than $4,500. The market isn't so perfect; non-English-speaking parents might have trouble telling a good private school from a bad one.

So, I guess my point is that liberals are sensitive to lots of potential pitfalls, and aren't just ignoring the costs of monopoly. Liberals can acknowledge the benefits of competition (innovation, incentives to work hard) while being concerned about the costs.

AJTALL

James,

First off, the worst districts - D.C., NY, LA, the kids who are truly trapped in the system - tend to "educate" kids at well over $10,000.00 per pupil versus a $2,000 or $4,000 voucher. Regardless, if it costs more to educate the child in a public school, then, when that child goes to a private school with his voucher, there is more money per pupil left to educate the remaining public school kids. So it doesn't cost the public school any money.

With regard to your other points, the rich already have many options. Usually, they just move to a nice suburb with better public schools. Again, it's the worst schools in the most urban areas that we're talking about. And your comments about religious indocrination may or may not be true, but that goes back to Prof. Epstein's points about fostering or allowing a free market in this area where religious schools of different denominations - even within Christianity - would spring up. Regarding private schools, some screen, but many already take kids that the public schools won't or can't educate - special kids, troubled kids. Again, a free market would be created in which a variety of schools - we don't know what this market will look like - would form.

James

AJTALL says:

"if it costs more to educate the child in a public school, then, when that child goes to a private school with his voucher, there is more money per pupil left to educate the remaining public school kids. So it doesn't cost the public school any money."

This is true for new opt-out students. However, all the students who have already opted out will get their vouchers without any compensating savings for the public school system. It may be worth it, but we can't pretend that funding for public schools will be unaffected.

As for religious indoctrination, the concern is not that this will be against the will of the students (or their parents). Rather, the concern is that tax money is going to support religion. Imagine that the government started paying the wages of anyone who became a full-time Christian clergyman. A vibrant market, full of willing participants, would no doubt spring up, but this would not make it constitutional.

In fact, the government would have to be very careful to monitor the curricula of private schools. After all, certain parents might be very happy for their children not to learn about, say, Japanese imperialism or the contributions of Muslims to India (real examples, though not in the US). Admittedly, this is a problem in the status quo, but it would be even worse to subsidize, say, Holocaust denial. Sadly, there is a market for that kind of education, and a bigger one for creationism and uncritical nationalism.

So yes, by all means a market would form, and no doubt it would have attractive features. We can't blithely assume that its benefits would outweigh its costs, though, and we have to think hard about where to draw constitutional lines.

AJTALL

James,

As to your first point, that begs the question why have these kids left the public school system? And what is fair about requiring them to pay for a system that they want no part of? It's like being forced to pay for two cars and only being allowed to use one of them.

Your second point has been addressed by the Supreme Court in the Cleveland voucher case, so it's not an issue. The parents, not the state, are deciding where to spend THEIR tax dollars.

As to your last point, I would say that it smacks of elitism that parents - I presume you mean the uneducated ones - cannot or would not be able to make thoughtful decisions in this area, even though parents make individual choices in lots of other areas. It's the same argument I hear opponents of private accounts make in the social security context. I would, however, be concerned of increased government regulation with a system of vouchers. I guess that's my only real concern - that the private schools would look more like public schools if government were to expand its regulatory role.

James

AJTALL-
However wonderful it is that some students have found happiness in private school, vouchers for them will mean that the government is paying significantly more for education than it does in the status quo. This will mean higher taxes or less funding for public schools. Fairness doesn't pay the bills.

Now, not all parents are rational, and it's not elitist to point that out (not all blog commenters are rational, either). Still, that's not my point. My point is that perfectly rational parents might want their children to be educated in a particular way. Racist parents might want their children not to learn about the civil rights movement, or slavery. Plenty of people would rather not have their children learn about atrocities committed by the United States. As we have seen, fundamentalist parents might not want their children to learn science.

The problem is that there are third parties. A democracy must have educated citizens to function, and that requires an accurate grasp of history. I wouldn't want to live in a country in which most people didn't know what Joe McCarthy did, or Joseph Stalin for that matter.

And of course parents' interests aren't perfectly aligned with those of their children. It seems to me that children deserve to be literate and to have a basic command of math. Probably they deserve much more. I think it's inevitable that the government must regulate these things, since voluntary transactions won't protect children, and won't protect the rest of us from poorly educated children.

Phil

I'm suspicious of vouchers on two fronts that Prof. Epstein doesn't not seem to identify with their detractors:

1) They have every appearance of a enormous new category of entitlement. If I opt out of the public market I still kick in my share, but recieve a voucher back from the state for the value (minus transaction costs) of my tax contribution. When the mechanisms of bureaucracy (and the infinite capacity of the market to exploit them) are factored in, this seems like a recipe for waste and abuse.


2) I'm unconvinced that the underserved will have more relative leverage with the private voucher institutions than they do with the public schools. I fear "voucher-mill" programs will arise to prey on those communities, providing sub-standard services and gaming every available aspect of the system to increase their share of the feast from the federal trough. There's a loose precedent for this with recent loan and grant scams at private "higher" learning programs.

Now maybe that will strike some as a paranoid "post-Enron" perspective on the dangers of privatization. So be it. Education creates the very capacity for functioning democratic citizens, and while every proposal for improving it merits careful consideration every caution is warranted to insure that the promise of education is not abandoned to forces less interested in children than profit.

AJTALL

Fine, we can exclude upper income families from receiving vouchers or we can phase it in over time. I still think the public schools wouldn't lose any money if we gave vouchers to current private students, since many kids currently in the public system would shift out and that cost savings would cover the vouchers for the kids currently attending private schools.

You say that many kids wouldn't learn about history and civil rights, as examples. I think you've just described the situation we have today within the public schools. The public schools are not teaching these things or are doing it in a p.c. sort of way.

none

James wrote: "all the students who have already opted out will get their vouchers without any compensating savings for the public school system. It may be worth it, but we can't pretend that funding for public schools will be unaffected."

I don't know the details of the Florida plan, but I think you are probably misconceptualizing it.

At least initially, per pupil expenditures, within the public school system, CANNOT drop from the current level.

You seem to suggest that the vouchers (all of them) will be paid out of the current money allocated to public education.

I don't think that's the way the whole thing is designed. (I certainly hope not.) Perhaps for each student currently attending a public school who decides to attend a private school the money previously allocated within the public system for THAT student will be shifted to the voucher program.

But the money to provide the vouchers for all the students currently in private schools would NOT come from the money currently budgeted for public education.

You are correct that the result will probably be a large increase, overall, in state money spent on education (both public and the voucher program).

And, over the long run, that increase might induce legislators to reduce the per pupil funding level of the public education system (the non-voucher system), but I don't think they would reduce it below the inflation-adjusted pre-voucher level (esp. with the constitutional safeguards, be they good or bad, in most states).

What we really ought to see in this is the opportunity for a great political compromise. Those on the right promise a significant increase in per pupil expenditures in the public system, in exchange for an opportunity to try some sort of significant voucher system.

Though voucher systems might increase the quality and quantity of learning in some areas for some people, I really doubt that they are a panacea. Conservatives especially should recognize that the strongest determinants of educational success are things like growing up in a two-parent household and having a mother that was over the age of 22 when the child in question was born, et cetera.

Thus, I don't think a voucher system would much help the inner-city poor. (And for you liberals: That's as much a criticism of your ideas, if by implication, as it is of conservative ones.)

Vouchers, however, might increase the quality of education in suburban and even rural communities, where many students have the foundation to learn a lot, but attend schools heavy with P.E. teachers and other Education Majors.

That said, my experience has NOT been that private or public schools are much of a determining factor when it comes to educational achievement, no matter the geographical location.

The students that do well in private schools probably would have done well if they attended public schools. In truth, I think the most powerful motives most parents that currently send their children to private schools (whether they'd admit it or not) are NOT concerns about academics, but social and (to a lesser extent) security concerns.

Of course, those are legitimate concerns, but it's difficult to see how a voucher system would solve secutiry concerns, unless we'd all be honest and admit that it's very likely that in some areas "public school" really means detention center for students not accpeted to any private school or kicked out of all private schools, but constitutionally guarunteed an education.

Anyway, one last thought: Concerns about state funding of religious institutions (by way of citizens' choices to, in this case, attend those institutions) may or may not be a big concern.

Consider welfare recipients. They receive money from the government (that is, other people's money) and can, for the most part, spend it as they choose.

With vouchers, the family receiving the voucher has probably contributed much more to the treasury (through tax payments) relative to the stipend than the welfare beneficiary relative to his benefit.


Kimball Corson

That Justices of the Florida Supreme Court are elected officials and that the National Education[al] Association, the Federation of Teachers and others of their ilk (affectionately known in lobbying circles and elsewhere as the "blob") ardently and effectively oppose virtually all vouchers and those who support them may be the real, underlying reason the Florida Supreme COurt rejected the voucher program it reviewed.

Nothing like having your job on the line in the face of such financial and political muscle. The beneficiaries of the state monopoly on education are clearly out to protect it and themselves.

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball

"Nothing like having your job on the line in the face of such financial and political muscle. The beneficiaries of the state monopoly on education are clearly out to protect it and themselves."

Huh.

So it's "clear" to Kimball that the Supreme Court Justices of Florida are a bunch of self-interested shmucks.

What about the people who wrote the Florida Constitution which requires Floriaa to provide "a UNIFORM, efficient, safe, secure, and HIGH QUALITY system of FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS that allows students to obtain a high quality education”?

Why did those people write the Constitution this way, Kimball?

Some professor wrote

"the majority of the Court held that the demand for uniformity precluded any experimentation in state vouchers which would drain off money from public schools."

Did the Court simply reach into its collective butt to obtain this conclusion? Or did some attorneys advocating against a voucher experiment present facts and figures which suggested that this was a likely result?

You know, kind of like how global warming is a likely result of a "free market" where industries get to decide how much they want to pollute ...

I love it when self-identifying conservatives get all weepy about the lack of a "free market" for this, that and the other thing. I love it because the stench of hypocracy is palpable and we don't have to spend too much time dismissing those conservative's "concerns."

Deborah Spaeth

Epstein

"Hence the windfall profit tax survived an exemption for Alaskan oil, and Amtrak did not have to operate uniformly on a nationwide basis. That geographical sense of uniformly could have been pounced on in the Florida case, but the federal analogies were not mentioned let alone discussed in either the majority or dissenting opinions."

Gosh, the country's interest in cheap oil and choo-choo train rides was perceived to be substantially different than Florida's interest in sustaining an educated populace.

Of course, a higher quality education equals less likelihood to be frightened by cheap, empty and misleading rhetoric. And less likelihood of being frightened by cheap and misleading rhetoric equals less likelihood of ingesting and thoughtless regurgitating Republican talking points.

And conservatives wouldn't want that, would they?

Remember what that clown in Dover said when they were sued for teaching creationist garbage (like that promoted by Perfesser Alschuler here)? "We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

He was right, of course. And he was defeated by that same educated segment of society. If only there were less of us and more people like Perfesser Alschuler and Perfesser Epstein. Then our markets would be "free" and our schools could focus less on trivial scientific and mathematical facts and more on what it means to be a good capitalist and patriot.

Barf.


Deborah Spaeth

Epstein

"The first of these is that it reduces the obligations of the public school systems, especially when the per pupil cost of education within the state system is higher than the cost of education within the public system, as I suspect it is in Florida. What is so horrible about a higher level of funds on a per capita basis for the students left behind."

This argument is so weak that I have to assume it is a joke.

James

none-
Thanks for the details. Here's what I think, for the record. You can get a lot of the benefits of competition without privatization. Attach a dollar amount to each student, to be spent on the school he/she chooses (more money for special needs students). Students choose from a list of schools, and the schools sink or float based on their ability to attract students. The schools still meet normal public school standards for curriculum, facilities, etc. This allays most of my worries. Obviously this only works in a somewhat densely populated area, but there are plenty of densely populated areas that need better schools.

One complication is that some states have very different living expenses in different areas, so you might have to adjust the per-student stipend accordingly (NYC vs. Albany, for instance).

Finally, Deborah, are you sure you're not a closet conservative bent on undermining and discrediting liberals? Think about it.

Deborah Spaeth

James

"Finally, Deborah, are you sure you're not a closet conservative bent on undermining and discrediting liberals?"

Yeah I'm sure.

Are you sure you're not one of those spineless liberals who's afraid to kick conservatives back in the nads when they make stupidass arguments and accuse "liberals" of "throwing every conceivable obstacle in the path of vouchers"???

Surely there are many obstacles that haven't been thrown in the path of voucers by "liberals."

For example, I'm not aware of a massive ad campaign designed to convince the public that the people who promote vouchers are unpatriotic or "helping the terrorists." I'm also not aware of any books written about the promoters of vouchers that accuse those promoters of killing people in cold blood.

The great Perfesser Epstein wants to play Perfesser Pundit and recite his little "free market" script for the rubes, complete with the mandatory reference to "Soviet-style" something-or-other.

You think Perfesser Epstein is some sort of libertarian??? He seems to fancy himself one. I wonder what his driver's license says about that.

Deborah Spaeth

Fyi, James: this ain't CNN. Think about it.

tired

Please, Deborah, this isn't talk radio. It isn't a even Volokh or Instapundit. It's a faculty blog.

In this forum, your bile and disrespectful posturing make you such a lousy representative of the "liberal" perspective that I'm inclined to sympathize with James' supposition that you're a fake and a plant. Really, your tone could hardly be less appropriate.

Can't we just decaffeinate now and then? You know, indulge some civility, even when we disagree?

Kimball Corson

Tired:

Deborah is more civil here than usual. You are viewing a high point. I'll take what I can get and respond to her here.

tired

I know. I know. I've been trolling.

Deborah Spaeth

tired

"Can't we just decaffeinate now and then? You know, indulge some civility, even when we disagree?"

Too funny.

Really, go ahead and read Epstein's piece and you tell me how "civil" it is. I already pointed out to you one example where he went out of his way to smear those bad ol' "liberals". Are there other examples?

You tell me, my sensitive friend. Apparently you are willing to look the other way as long as enough three syllable words are floated by our silver-tongued Perfesser.

Alschuler's posts re education were no different: mush up the facts, trash scientists, and voila! we've got a "friendly disagreement."

It's a joke, "tired." If you consider yourself a "liberal," it's a joke at your expense.

There are undoubtedly problems with the public eduation system in this country, or at least with its implimentation at the local level. But does a "serious" discussion of these problems include thinly disguised attacks on "liberals" and their alleged love of "state monopolies"?

Epstein describes the "unsurprising" result of a public education system as a:

"system-wide failure that translates itself into expensive and unresponsive education that works far better for the well-to-do families that live in the suburbs than for the urban poor who have neither the wealth nor clout to escape the system."

Well, jeebus, other than public transportation (maybe -- and well-to-do suburban Americans tend to shun in favor of SUVs), what system -- private or public -- does NOT work better for the well-to-do families that live in the suburbs than for the "urban poor"????

And if it's a "system-wide" failure, then how is it that the public schools in well-to-do suburbs seem to be doing a decent job?

The answers to both questions say less about public education than they do about the agenda of the writer who wrote the questions.

Does Epstein believe that a functioning public education system is impossible in the United States? That only deluded "liberals" are so mentally challenged that they could possibly imagine a public education system that works?

If that's the case, then Epstein should say so and DEFEND his position. Any such defense should include an explanation as to why investing in, e.g., destroying and occupying other countries is a better use of taxpayer's money.

Certainly the drafters of Florida's constitution -- who I assume were elected representatives of the people of Florida and included both liberals and conservatives -- appear to vehemently disagree with Prof. Epstein's position on public education.

But then again, Prof. Epstein is one of those well-to-do types already, isn't he?

How convenient.

Deborah Spaeth

I wrote

"The answers to both questions say less about public education than they do about the agenda of the writer who **wrote the questions.**"

Hee hee. That should be "wrote the passages which inspired the questions." ;)

Kimball Corson

Deborah,

Deborah writes, quoting me:

"’Nothing like having your job on the line in the face of such financial and political muscle. The beneficiaries of the state monopoly on education are clearly out to protect it and themselves.” Huh. So it's "clear" to Kimball that the Supreme Court Justices of Florida are a bunch of self-interested shmucks.”

I respond:

That is not how I would put it, but to be sure it is naïve in the extreme to discount the point I raise or the aggressiveness of the educational lobby. It is no coincidence that vouchers have not been given a real chance in America, given the antipathy of that lobby toward them.

Deborah writes:

“What about the people who wrote the Florida Constitution which requires Florida to provide "a UNIFORM, efficient, safe, secure, and HIGH QUALITY system of FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS that allows students to obtain a high quality education”? Why did those people write the Constitution this way, Kimball?”

I respond:

They did not write this provision to outlaw quality private schools in Florida, to be sure. That the public sector school may be of a uniform quality and such, should not make this provision preclude vouchers to good and improving private schools. Moreover, this provision, realistically viewed, is more a statement of aspiration than something that can be realistically mandated by law. In fact, Florida now more than arguably violates this provision without effective remedy and that occurs independently of any voucher program. The poor performance of public schools is the problem, not vouchers which may be a solution.

Debroah writes:

“Some professor wrote ‘the majority of the Court held that the demand for uniformity precluded any experimentation in state vouchers which would drain off money from public schools.’ Did the Court simply reach into its collective butt to obtain this conclusion? Or did some attorneys advocating against a voucher experiment present facts and figures which suggested that this was a likely result?”

I respond:

Money could and should be drained off from the public schools to good and improving private schools initially until the public schools perform better. Doing so could well have competition result in better performance by both public and private school as they compete for school dollars. The court misunderstood the dynamics and potential results of competition and looked only to initial consequences. Indeed, if public schools wound up performing better, the private schools could wind up being fleeced of dollars and the public schools would have more --- not less – money than they do now. The court misunderstood the dynamic analysis and got snookered. Where competition is greatest in the American educational system – professional and graduate schools – the performance is the highest and indeed the envy of the world. Europe wants an MIT and China is on a crash program to develop a series of top graduate schools. Finally, draining money from the public schools initially does not necessarily compromise public school quality (as opposed to teachers’ salaries), because there is, at that level, a low correlation between school quality and money spent per student. Japan teaches us that well.

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball

"That is not how I would put it, but to be sure it is naïve in the extreme to discount the point I raise or the aggressiveness of the educational lobby."

Don't b.s. me Kimball. Remember: I know how you operate. You're still functioning at a very, uh, "base" level when it comes to honest discourse.

So, let's deal with your strawman above. I didn't "discount" the "aggressiveness" of the educational lobby. I merely noted that YOU, Kimball, alleged without ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that it was "clear" that the Supreme's were "out to protect" their jobs.

And now you pretend that anyone who disagrees with your STRAWMAN is "naive in the extreme".

Is this your idea of "civil discourse" Kimball?

I think it's fxcking sad. And I stopped reading your comment after that. Why should I go on?

Seriously, Kimball: why should I read any further when you raise a strawman at the FIRST INSTANCE?

I await the acknowledgement of your garbage and your apology.

Deborah Spaeth

Because I'm bored I'll read one more sentence of Kimball's:

"It is no coincidence that vouchers have not been given a real chance in America, given the antipathy of that lobby toward them."

Oh boo hoo hoo hoo hoo!!!!! Sniffle, sniffle.

Gosh, sort of reminds me of a certain other group of whiners who claim that their "theory" about the evolution of human beings hasn't been given a "fair chance" because of the "antipathy" of the "dogmatists" in the "scientific community."

It sounds to me like you're saying that the "free market" should apply to public schools but vouchers need "affirmative action" before they have a "fair chance." Is that right?

"Where competition is greatest in the American educational system – professional and graduate schools – the performance is the highest and indeed the envy of the world."

Huh. Any data which directly supports this bold claim, Kimball? Is this true of all fields?

Is the fact that our graduate institutions are the "envy of the world" the reason why Professor Alschuler considers the professionals who work at those institutions to be deluded/confused hacks who refuse to see the "devastating" "gaps" and "holes" in the evolutionary theory?

Seriously, your claim that the reason public professional and graduate schools are allegedly "better" is because they compete with private schools strikes me as a tad, uh, simplistic.

Comparing public graduate schools to public ELEMENTARY and SECONDARY schools ignores some fundamental facts about how the student population in those schools is determined. I don't want to insult you, Kimball, by pretending to teach you those simple incontrovertible facts. Once again, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are aware of those simple incontrovertible facts but have carefully chosen to ignore them in order to promote your point of view in the course of what you consider to be a "civil" discussion.

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball makes a mockery of civil discourse:

"They did not write this provision to outlaw quality private schools in Florida, to be sure."

That's nice. So, uh, who proposed outlawing private schools in Florida, Kimball?

Kimball Corson

Deborah,

Deborah wrote:

“. . .YOU, Kimball, alleged without ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that it was "clear" that the Supreme's were ‘out to protect’ their jobs. And now you pretend that anyone who disagrees with your STRAWMAN is ‘naive in the extreme.’ Is this your idea of ‘civil discourse’ Kimball? Seriously, Kimball: why should I read any further when you raise a strawman at the FIRST INSTANCE?
I await the acknowledgement of your garbage and your apology.”

I respond:

Direct evidence of self-interest is hard to come by in this context. We cannot expect justices of the Florida Supreme Court to say they are protecting their jobs. However, how they decided the case is consistent with this hypothesis, giving the aggressive opposition and track record of the educational lobby on vouchers. Do not believe for a moment that in closer cases such interests cannot play a serious role. Also, I did not say it was “clear” the justices were out to protect their jobs. I said it was “clear” that the educational lobby was very strongly opposed to vouchers and protecting teachers’ jobs. It was you who suggested my argument was “clear.” Talk about strawmen and civil discourse! Further, as to me raising my point in the first instance, why does the order of argumentation matter at a substantive level?

Deborah wrote, quoting me:

"’It is no coincidence that vouchers have not been given a real chance in America, given the antipathy of that lobby toward them.’ Oh boo hoo hoo hoo hoo!!!!! Sniffle, sniffle.”

I respond:

It is a fact that supports my position on the strength of the blob, not whining. And your response is not effective argumentation.

Deborah wrote:

“It sounds to me like you're saying that the ‘free market’ should apply to public schools but vouchers need ‘affirmative action’ before they have a ‘fair chance.’ Is that right?”

I respond:

No. Vouchers do not need “affirmative action” or anything of the sort. They just need to be not outlawed so that they are given a chance to show what competition by their aegis can do. Outlawed, they stand no chance, much less a “fair” one.

Deborah wrote quoting me:

"’Where competition is greatest in the American educational system – professional and graduate schools – the performance is the highest and indeed the envy of the world.’ Huh. Any data which directly supports this bold claim, Kimball? Is this true of all fields? . . . Seriously, your claim that the reason public professional and graduate schools are allegedly "better" is because they compete with private schools strikes me as a tad, uh, simplistic.”

I respond:

I thought I provided some evidentiary support, albeit circumstantial. China wants to emulate our best graduate schools. Europe wants an MIT. Further, surveys on the quality of American universities, especially at the graduate level, verses those in the rest of the world put us clearly on top and massively dominant in the top ranks. Collaterally, as has been noted, funding for top graduate and professional schools in America is primarily private in the first instance, unlike the situations of lesser performance by such institutions in Europe and China. There governmental control and financing of such education is the norm and very similar to what we have in our primary and secondary schools here, which by consensus perform at those levels far less well. I suggest the lesson is that where government provides the financing for and controls education exclusively, schools performs less well and cost more, just like most monopolies do


Deborah wrote:

“Comparing public graduate schools to public ELEMENTARY and SECONDARY schools ignores some fundamental facts about how the student population in those schools is determined. I don't want to insult you, Kimball, by pretending to teach you those simple incontrovertible facts. Once again, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are aware of those simple incontrovertible facts but have carefully chosen to ignore them in order to promote your point of view in the course of what you consider to be a "civil" discussion.”

I respond:

First, we are talking about performance at the respective levels. We can have good grade school performance with the populations at hand. With competition, secondary and primary schools can compete by having specialized schools to address the various needs of student groups much better and produce much better results than monolithic, monopolistic public schools can. School population segments with more special needs can thereby have their needs addressed. Governmental monopolies limit choice and neglect all but median needs and therefore fair less well. We admire Japanese grade schools and yet they take the populations at hand. I do not mean to slight cultural differences here and I do give them their due. Japanese families aggressively seek good primary and secondary schooling. Too many Americans worry that their little Johnny or Susie might be worked too hard or asked too do to much. Family attitudes are a part of the problem at these levels, but competition might improve that situation too, for virtually all parents want to see their children do well and have hope and prospects. The public education system does not address those needs and parents know it and in part and for those reasons have the attitudes they do. Poor performance lowers expectations and the problem becomes circular.

Deborah wrote quoting me:

"’They did not write this provision to outlaw quality private schools in Florida, to be sure.’ That's nice. So, uh, who proposed outlawing private schools in Florida, Kimball?”

I respond:

No one. The Florida constitutional provision addresses only quality in public schools and that was my point. It does not therefore preclude quality private schools. However, why should quality private schools be handicapped by requiring the parents of students who attend them to pay for both public schools and their private schools. Parents of public school children do not have to do that. It is particularly a shame when the private schools are doing a better job. Why not let the state provide its per capita funding directly to the parents who can then buy the quality of education they want for their children where they want. Such an arrangement would provide competition and its benefits – improved and more specialized performance and lower cost. This is the core notion that Milton Friedman used to develop the idea of vouchers many years ago.


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