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Archive for the ‘School Choice’ Category

In theory, annual awards should not be bestowed until the end of the year. But I already violated that rule when writing about “2022’s Tweet of the Year” last month (in my defense, anything that mocks Oxfam deserves favorable attention).

Given my weakness for premature proclamations, I may as well do it again.

Being a big fan of school choice, you can understand why this bit of whining and grousing from the National Education Association is my “Feel-Good Tweet of the Year.”

Oh, dear, the union bosses are upset that children are getting more options to escape government schools. My cheeks are wet with crocodile tears! So much schadenfreude.

By the way, I agree with part of the tweet. The union bosses at the NEA are correct that school choice is spreading.

Most notably, there was a huge victory for choice last year in West Virginia. But there’s also been progress in many other states.

But I can’t resist correcting two other parts of the tweet.

  • First, choice doesn’t “divert funding for public education into private hands.” Instead, it returns funding to private hands, where the money can then be used to get the best possible education for kids. Incidentally, that could mean government schools (researchers have that quality increases when government schools have to compete for students).
  • Second, it’s not voucher proponents that have been “steadily working to undermine public education.” Instead, the NEA should look in the mirror. It’s the union bosses and their political allies who have made government schools less attractive. They’ve been given record amounts of money and produced dismal educational outcomes.

P.S. As always, I can’t resist reminding people that there are successful systems of school choice in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands. In other words, it’s not a crazy idea being pushed by American libertarians.

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What’s the main problem in K-12 education today? Based on news reports, one might think the top challenge involves hot-button social issues such as sex education and critical race theory.

Or maybe pandemic policies such as masking, remote learning, and vaccinations.

Or the malignant role of teacher unions.

Those are real issues, of course, but surely the biggest problem must be that taxpayers are spending ever-more money and getting ever-weaker results.

Given these issues, I was interested to see that the Washington Post has a lengthy article, written by Laura Meckler, that looks at the various challenges facing government schools.

It starts with a grim assessment.

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling. For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. …Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building. …Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries.

As one might suspect, the pandemic made a bad situation worse.

Remote learning, the toll of illness and death, and disruptions to a dependable routine have left students academically behind — particularly students of color and those from poor families. Behavior problems ranging from inability to focus in class all the way to deadly gun violence have gripped campuses. …In fall 2021, 38 percent of third-graders were below grade level in reading, compared with 31 percent historically. In math, 39 percent of students were below grade level, vs. 29 percent historically. …A McKinsey & Co. study found schools with majority-Black populations were five months behind pre-pandemic levels. …Last school year, the number of students who were chronically absent — meaning they have missed more than 10 percent of school days — nearly doubled from before the pandemic.

Many parents have responded to this mess by seeking other options.

More kids are now attending charter schools or private schools, and there’s also been an explosion in home schooling.

Enrollment in traditional public schools fell to less than 49.4 million students in fall 2020, a 2.7 percent drop from a year earlier. …if the trend continues, that will mean less money for public schools as federal and state funding are both contingent on the number of students enrolled. …Some students have shifted to private or charter schools. A rising number, especially Black families, opted for home schooling. And many young children who should have been enrolling in kindergarten delayed school altogether. …charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, saw enrollment increase by 7 percent, or nearly 240,000 students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. There’s also been a surge in home schooling. Private schools saw enrollment drop slightly in 2020-21 but then rebound this academic year, for a net growth of 1.7 percent over two years.

From my perspective, here’s the best part of the article.

Fueling the pressure on public schools is an ascendant school-choice movement… EdChoice, a group that promotes these programs, tallies seven states that created new school choice programs last year. …Another 15 states expanded existing programs.

Amen. School choice is the answer to our education problems – from the perspective of both students and taxpayers.

We’ve already seen a lot of progress on this issue, but more is needed. I hope more and more states copy nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands and give parents the ability to opt for higher-quality private schools.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help when politicians created a federal Department of Education in the late 1970s. At best, it meant another layer of costly bureaucracy. At worst, it led to mandates and regulations that exacerbated the problem of ever-more spending for ever-weaker results.

P.P.S. Here’s a very amusing video about home schooling.

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If Winston Churchill was commenting on America’s government schools instead of the Royal Air Force, he would have said, “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

Which is one of the messages in this new video from Reason.

I won’t keep anyone in suspense.

The message of today’s column is that government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while producing ever-more dismal outcomes.

As a nation, we have two choices.

We can continue to pour more money into monopoly, government-run systems that never produce better results.

Or we can learn from the evidence and harness the benefits of competition and innovation with school choice.

Let’s look at some more data and research.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, and Miguel Urquiola were largely agnostic on the desirability of choice.

But their research included some very favorable analysis.

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. …multiple positive findings support continued exploration. …for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. …Evidence on both small scale and large scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. … The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve. …In addition, recent evidence from small-scale experiments in the United States finds substantial gains in years of school for recipients… More encouraging results on the effect of small-scale programs come from developing countries. …interesting evidence comes from India. While vouchers there delivered modest test-score gains, they did so at one-third the cost per student of public schools. …In the case of Sweden’s large-scale voucher program, …recent work features evidence of significant gains… Recent research also tends to support the finding that voucher competition has improved the performance of public schools.

Since I’ve written about choice programs in nations such as Canada, Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands, I’m glad the study mentioned some of the international evidence.

Moreover, I’ve also noted that proponents of school choice have been gaining ground.

Francis Suarez, the Mayor Miami, wants more progress. A National Review article he co-authored with Corey DeAngelis makes the case for expanded options.

School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. …We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice. …Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. …Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better. …Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.

The moral of the story is that school choice is a win-win for taxpayers and students.

Now let’s shift to the politics of school choice.

That normally means focusing on the baleful role of teacher unions, which place their personal self interest above student outcomes.

But there’s also the red-vs.-blue dynamic. In a report for the American Enterprise Institute, Jay Greene and Lindsey Burke analyze some of the challenges of trying to enact bipartisan choice legislation.

…in their quest for broader support, choice proponents have conceded to Democrats’ policy demands that ultimately weaken the options available to families: limited student eligibility, heavy-handed standardized tests and regulations, caps on scholarship amounts and student participation, and admissions regulations. Not only has that approach weakened many school choice programs, but it doesn’t appear to have actually won Democratic policymakers’ support. It may have even alienated Republican policymakers who were on the fence about supporting school choice. …Any Democratic support has been for modest or heavily regulated programs, such as the voucher program in Louisiana. The Louisiana voucher program suffers under a mountain of regulations that has discouraged private schools from participating, so much so that only one-third of the state’s private schools will accept the vouchers. …What does this all mean for private school choice proponents? It means supporters should not be afraid to make what is likely our most compelling case: that education freedom is fundamentally about enabling parents to choose learning environments that align with their values. …choice proponents should embrace and be vocal about school choice allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values. In other words, choice proponents should be unafraid to appeal to Republicans. …proponents have not made the cultural case for choice to the Republican base, for fear of losing Democratic legislative allies, who, it turns out, weren’t really there to begin with.

I’m a policy wonk rather than political pundit, so my only comment is that proponents shouldn’t give up on bipartisanship.

There’s new legislation in Georgia to enable choice and it has several Democratic cosponsors. If enacted, this could be even bigger news than last-year’s victory in West Virginia.

And I’ve already lauded the powerful words of Justin Wayne, a Democratic member of Nebraska’s legislature.

Speaking of politics, another complication is that charter schools (a type of choice in the government system) may undermine private schools.

Christopher Bedford explains this problem in an article for the Federalist.

Search the Lehigh Valley papers and you’ll find Catholic school after Catholic school closing down. In March 2018, Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown closed its doors. In June 2020, Sacred Heart School in Bath and St. Francis Academy in Bally shut down. And last May, Trinity Academy in Shenandoah became the latest victim. …Charter schools are booming in Pennsylvania. …enrollment at charters rose by 25,000 last year; about 10 percent of all children in the state are enrolled in them. There are at least 14 charter schools in the Lehigh Valley region so far. …Often, in fact, the arrival of a charter is the death knell for a parochial school. In New York state, a 2012 study found that for every charter school that opened, a parochial school closed. …This is the kind of mutilated, self-defeating “victory” we see on the right far too often. Democratic teachers unions were weakened, and public school bureaucrats faced some small level of competition. …But in the big picture, parents and their children are still at the mercy of a government bureaucracy… Still, for a lot of parents, the choice is simple: They know public schools are poisonous, and now they have an alternative that doesn’t cost them a dime in tuition. And so, charter schools are booming, while parochial schools are slowly withering and dying.

This creates a quandary.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools.

But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory if the expansion of such schools undermines the vitality of private schools.

P.S. Many rich folks on the left believe in private schools, but only for their own kids.

P.P.S. There’s also evidence that school choice is better for children’s mental health since it’s associated with lower suicide rates. That’s a nice fringe benefit, much like the data on school choice and jobs.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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When contemplating the issue of school choice, it’s most important to focus on how we can improve educational outcomes, particularly for children from low-income communities.

But, as a fiscal economist, I can’t help thinking about how school choice is also good news for taxpayers.

And I also can’t help but notice that opponents are often very hypocritical.

What do these opponents of choice have in common? What drives their hypocrisy?

Simply stated, they put the interests of teacher unions above the interests of children.

Speaking of which, the NH Journal recently reported on another glaring case of hypocrisy.

One of New Hampshire’s most outspoken school choice opponents stunned reform advocates Friday when she admitted she had pulled her son out of public school to attend a private academy… Advocates for education reform were stunned. “I’m sure Rep. Porter had good reasons for choosing a private school for her own child, and other families have good reasons as well,” said Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice. “It’s a shame she’s seeking to deny families the same opportunities she and her children had.” …Porter’s stance highlights what supporters of EFAs and similar programs say is the hypocrisy of their opponents: They oppose letting low-income families use their children’s share of education funding to have the same choices they do. For example, while New Hampshire teachers’ unions are strident opponents of EFAs, multiple studies have found public school teachers are far more likely to send their children to private schools than their fellow parents.

Since we’re on this topic, it reminded me of past examples of education hpocrisy.

For instance, the Daily Caller investigated some of the Democratic Senators who opposed Trump’s Secretary of Education because of her support for school choice.

Lo and behold, they exercised choice for their children while opposing choice for poor kids.

At least seven of the 46 Senate Democrats who voted against Betsy DeVos…currently send or once sent their own children or grandchildren to expensive private schools. …Sen. Al Franken…has two children who attended The Dalton School in New York City… The cost of a single year of tuition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Dalton is $44,640. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren…has a granddaughter who rubs shoulders with the children of movie stars at the trendy Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California. Tuition at Harvard-Westlake costs $35,900 each year. …Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse…has two children. His daughter attended the Wheeler School, a coed day school in Providence where a single year of tuition for sixth grade through 12th grade currently costs $35,215. …Whitehouse…also sent his son to a St. George’s School, a private boarding school… Annual tuition at St. George’s is currently $39,900. …Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand…sends her two school-age children to Capitol Hill Day School… Tuition at the private, progressive bastion currently runs $30,300.00 per year for sixth through eighth grades… Sen. Richard Blumenthal…sent one of his four children to Brunswick School, a private, all-boys day school in Greenwich… A year of high school tuition at Brunswick currently costs $40,450. …Blumenthal sent another one of his kids to Greenwich Academy, an all-girls day school where high school tuition currently runs $41,890. …Sen. Maggie Hassan…daughter attended Phillips Exeter Academy… The cost for a year of tuition and fees at Phillips Exeter is currently $37,875. …Sen. Bob Casey…sent his daughters to Scranton Preparatory School, a private Jesuit school where a year of tuition costs $13,400.

Researching today’s topic, I also came across a column for PJ Media, authored by Tom Knighton, that exposed Matt Damon’s hypocrisy.

I’m a Matt Damon fan. …throughout his career, I’ve also known that he was a rabid leftist… It wasn’t until recently that I learned he was also a grade “A” hypocrite. You see, …he’s not sending his kids to public school. …Damon’s argument is that he can’t find the kind of progressive education he had growing up for his own children, and thus has no choice but to send his own kids to private school. Isn’t that just fascinating? Throughout this country, there are people who are less than thrilled with the school they find their children assigned to due to where they live. Maybe they live in a great neighborhood for their modest income level but the school they’re zoned for is notorious for drugs and violence. Maybe it’s just a bad school. …Damon would have that hardworking family that only wants what’s best for their kids to be forced to attend the bad school with no say in the matter, all while sending his kids to private school because he can’t find quite the same “progressive” education he had as a kid. In other words, because he’s rich, it’s cool for him to be picky about his children’s education, but not for the rest of us.

To be fair, while there are many leftists who are hypocrites (as well as plenty of folks on the right), we should acknowledge that there are counter examples.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post made a strong case for school choice back in 2017.

Millions of parents choose to send their children to parochial or other private schools. Millions more decide where to rent or buy a home based on the quality of the local public schools. The only people who do not enjoy this right are those who are too poor to move out of neighborhoods where public schools are failing. A disproportionate number of these are people of color. …Well, here’s a suggestion: DeVos could offer one or two cities the chance to become laboratories of choice. …The federal government would offer financial help… The system would then stop funding schools and begin funding families. Every child would be given an annual scholarship. Poor children, who often enter school needing extra attention, would get bigger scholarships. …Every school would then have to compete for students. Principals would be allowed to hire the teachers they wanted. …positive change would be almost immediate: Poor parents, so often ignored and disrespected by public school bureaucrats, suddenly would find themselves being wooed and treated as valued customers. …positive results might soon become self-reinforcing: High-performing schools would attract more students, low performers would have to improve or close.

Heck, the official editorial position of the Washington Post is favorable to school choice, notwithstanding the paper’s generally left-leaning outlook.

These honest and ethical leftists should be applauded.

Let’s close by celebrating the fact that 2021 was a great year for school choice and educational freedom (especially in West Virginia).

J.D. Tuccille of Reason has a new article pointing out that not only was it “a ‘historic’ year for school choice,” but it also has resulted in much greater levels of acceptance for alternatives to the government monopoly.

…accelerated by pandemic-era stresses, innovations in recent years brought big changes to education. The biggest change of all is probably the growing acceptance won by charters, homeschooling, and a host of flexible approaches to teaching kids… “How have your opinions on homeschooling changed as a result of the coronavirus?” EdChoice asks parents every month. In December 2021, 68 percent of respondents reported that they are more favorable to homeschooling than they were before the pandemic. Only 18 percent are less favorable. It’s not just homeschooling. The same survey finds rising support (70 percent) for education savings accounts which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds to pay for education expenses, school vouchers (65 percent) by which public education funds follow students to the schools of their choice, and publicly funded but privately run charter schools (68 percent) like the one my son attended through third grade.

You can see why I listed school choice as one of the best developments for 2021.

P.S. The “Tweet of the Year” for 2021 involved school choice.

P.P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Canada, SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

 

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Per tradition (2020, 2019, 2018, etc), we highlight the best and worst developments of the year on December 31.

The choices are based on whether a particular policy increases or decreases individual liberty, either in a big way or a symbolic way.

Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t show up on either the good list or bad list.

Why? Because governments continue to make things worse, but not in ways that are significantly new or different.

With that in mind, let’s look at what happened in 2021, starting with the good news.

The Death of (the horribly misnamed) Build Back Better – President Biden somehow decided a very narrow victory over a very unpopular incumbent meant that he had a mandate for a radical expansion of the welfare state, accompanied by a plethora of class-warfare tax increases. Fortunately, Congress did not approve Biden’s growth-sapping plan.

School Choice Advances – Led by a sweeping plan to empower parents in West Virginia, there were many encouraging victories this year for school choice. And as teacher unions continue to mishandle the pandemic, there’s hope for continued progress next year.

Arizona Tax Reform – Several states lowered tax rates in 2021, but what happened in Arizona deserves special attention. Lawmakers reversed the outcome of a class-warfare referendum, meaning the state’s top tax rate on households will be 4.5 percent rather than 8 percent.

Speaking of referendum results, if we had an “honorable mention” or “runner-up” category, I would list three results from  2021

Now let’s look at the three worst policy developments of 2021.

Biden’s Fake Stimulus and Infrastructure Boondoggle – Even though the so-called Build Back Better plan failed to advance, President Biden was able to significantly increase the burden of government spending with a supposed stimulus plan early in the year, followed by a grab-bag of special-interest handouts as part of “infrastructure” legislation later in the year.

Chile Elects a Hard-Core Leftist President – Much to my dismay, Chilean voters opted for a hard-core leftist president who wants to dismantle the nation’s very successful private social security system. The most economically successful nation in Latin America is now in danger of becoming another Argentina. Or worse.

Global Tax Cartel – While Biden’s proposal for a higher corporate tax rate in the United States did not succeed, he seems to have successfully paved the way for a global tax cartel that will require all nations to have a corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent. This is a victory for politicians over workers, consumers, and shareholders. And it creates a very dangerous precedent.

Let’s also have an honorable mention for bad news.

One positive development during the Trump years was the unwinding of regulations that forced Americans to use crummy, low-flow showerheads.

Well, that victory was short-lived, as captured by this headline from a Reason article.

For what it’s worth, I suspect this bit of bad news will be followed by some bad news on a related issue.

P.S. I thought about including inflation as one of the bad things that happened in 2021, but I think that’s the results of years of misguided monetary policy. Politicians from both parties seem perfectly happy with Keynesian policy from the Federal Reserve.

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I wrote two days ago about how the Supreme Court will be ruling in the next few months on a very important school-choice case, involving whether state and local governments should be allowed to discriminate against religious schools.

As part of that column, I mentioned that “government school systems cost a lot of money and do a bad job.”

Some readers emailed me and expressed disbelief. The common message was that private schools surely had to be more expensive.

There are some very costly private schools, to be sure, but the data clearly show that government schools, on average, consume a lot more money.

I want to build on this message today by calling everyone’s attention to a great report by Martin F. Lueken of edChoice.

Here are some of the key findings from the executive summary.

This study estimates the combined net fiscal effects of each educational choice program on state and local taxpayers… Through FY 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated an estimated $12.4 billion to $28.3 billion in cumulative net fiscal savings for state and local taxpayers. This range represents $3,300 to $7,500 per student participant. …Educational choice programs generated between $1.80 to $2.85 in estimated fiscal savings, on average, for each dollar spent on the programs. These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice who would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost.

The report is packed with lots of data, including state-by-state estimates of how different choice programs save money.

But if you’re going to digest one set of numbers, Figure 4 tells you just about everything you need to know.

And remember, when you look at these cost comparisons, that private schools produce better outcomes, as measured by student achievement.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

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The case for school choice is very straightforward.

The good news is that there was a lot of pro-choice reform in 2021.

West Virginia adopted a statewide system that is based on parental choice. And many other states expanded choice-based programs.

But 2022 may be a good year as well. That’s because the Supreme Court is considering whether to strike down state laws that restrict choice by discriminating against religious schools.

Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice and Walter Womack of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference make the case for a level playing field in a column for the New York Times.

In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution allows school choice programs to include schools that provide religious instruction, so long as the voucher program also offers secular options. The question now before the court is whether a state may nevertheless exclude schools that provide religious instruction. The case, Carson v. Makin, …concerns Maine’s tuition assistance program. In that large and sparsely populated state, over half of the school districts have no public high schools. If a student lives in such a district, and it does not contract with another high school to educate its students, then the district must pay tuition for the student to attend the school of her or his parents’ choice. …But one type of school is off limits: a school that provides religious instruction. That may seem unconstitutional, and we argue that it is. Only last year, the Supreme Court, citing the free exercise clause of the Constitution, held that states cannot bar students in a school choice program from selecting religious schools when it allows them to choose other private schools. …The outcome will be enormously consequential for families in public schools that are failing them and will go a long way toward determining whether the most disadvantaged families can exercise the same control over the education of their children as wealthier citizens.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on this issue earlier this week.

Maine has one of the country’s oldest educational choice systems, a tuition program for students who live in areas that don’t run schools of their own. Instead these families get to pick a school, and public funds go toward enrollment. Religious schools are excluded, however, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear from parents who have closely read the First Amendment. …Maine argues it isn’t denying funds based on the religious “status” of any school… The state claims, rather, that it is merely refusing to allocate money for a “religious use,” specifically, “an education designed to proselytize and inculcate children with a particular faith.” In practice, this distinction between “status” and “use” falls apart. Think about it: Maine is happy to fund tuition at an evangelical school, as long as nothing evangelical is taught. Hmmm. …A state can’t subsidize tuition only for private schools with government-approved values, and trying to define the product as “secular education” gives away the game. …America’s Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote the First Amendment to protect religious “free exercise.”

What does the other side say?

Rachel Laser, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, doesn’t want religious schools to be treated equally under school choice programs.

Here’s some of her column in the Washington Post.

…two sets of parents in Maine claim that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom actually requires the state to fund religious education at private schools with taxpayer dollars — as a substitute for public education. This interpretation flips the meaning of religious freedom on its head and threatens both true religious freedom and public education. …The problem here is even bigger than public funds paying for praying, as wrong as that is. Unlike public schools, private religious schools often do not honor civil rights protections, especially for LGBTQ people, women, students with disabilities, religious minorities and the nonreligious. …If the court were to agree with the parents, it would also be rejecting the will of three-quarters of the states, which long ago enacted clauses in their state constitutions and passed statutes specifically prohibiting public funding of religious education. …It is up to parents and religious communities to educate their children in their faith. Publicly funded schools should never serve that purpose.

These arguments are not persuasive.

The fact that many state constitutions include so-called Blaine amendments actually undermines her argument since those provisions were motivated by a desire to discriminate against parochial schools that provided education to Catholic immigrants.

And it’s definitely not clear why school choice shouldn’t include religious schools that follow religious teachings, unless she also wants to argue that student grants and loans shouldn’t go to students at Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Liberty, and other religiously affiliated colleges.

The good news is that Ms. Laser’s arguments don’t seem to be winning. Based on this report from yesterday’s Washington Post, authored by Robert Barnes, there are reasons to believe the Justices will make the right decision.

Conservatives on the Supreme Court seemed…critical of a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to schools that promote religious instruction. The case involves an unusual program in a small state that affects only a few thousand students. But it could have greater implications… The oral argument went on for nearly two hours and featured an array of hypotheticals. …But the session ended as most suspected it would, with the three liberal justices expressing support for Maine and the six conservatives skeptical that it protected religious parents from unconstitutional discrimination.

I can’t resist sharing this additional excerpt about President Biden deciding to side with teacher unions instead of students.

The Justice Department switched its position in the case after President Biden was inaugurated and now supports Maine.

But let’s not dwell on Biden’s hackery (especially since that’s a common affliction on the left).

Instead, let’s close with some uplifting thoughts about what might happen if we get a good decision from the Supreme Court when decisions are announced next year.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think we’re getting close to a tipping point. As more and more states and communities shift to choice, we will have more and more evidence that it’s a win-win for both families and taxpayers.

Which will lead to more choice programs, which will produce more helpful data.

Lather, rinse, repeat. No wonder the (hypocritical) teacher unions are so desperate to stop progress.

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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The most powerful argument for school choice is that children from poor families will be more likely to get a high-quality education. After all, these are the kids most likely to be trapped in failing government schools.

But there are lots of secondary arguments for school choice.

Today, we’re going to add to this list by considering the current controversy over whether “critical race theory” should be taught in schools.

I won’t bother trying to put forth my own definition of CRT.

But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing if kids learn that the United States (like all nations) has an imperfect history, while it’s wrong if kids are brainwashed into believing that they are either oppressors or victims simply because of skin color.

But what about people who think differently? Should I decide what schools teach, or should other people make those choices?

The right answer is that we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach. Either mine or anyone else’s.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille says school choice is a way of letting parents pick the schools that best reflect their values.

…some states are banning the teaching of CRT—an approach that threatens to turn advocates of the ideology into free speech martyrs fighting the entrenched establishment. …families that choose how their children learn—my own included—rather than defaulting to government-run institutions…have largely escaped these battles. By homeschooling, or micro-schooling, or picking private or charter schools, we can avoid curricula permeated with ideas we find toxic… Parents that…support CRT also have alternatives to battling over the content of schoolroom lessons. They can introduce their tykes to Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby Picture Book, marinate their kids in CRT-infused homeschooling, or send them to one of many private schools that offer willing families an education steeped in the ideology. …if that’s what they want their kids to learn, let them do so in peace, and without zero-sum arguments about what children are taught in shared institutions.

Amen.

Critical race theory won’t be nearly so controversial if we let parents choose the type of education that’s best for their kids.

And the same is true for other contentious issues, ranging from phonics to prayer.

No wonder more and more states are shifting in the right direction on this issue.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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After three columns on the topic in the past five weeks (see here, here, and here), I wasn’t expecting to write again about school choice anytime soon, but this speech by State Senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska must be watched.

What a great idea! All politicians who vote against school choice have to send their kids to the crummy government schools in their states and districts.

That wouldn’t be good news for hypocrites like Barack Obama (and his Secretary of Education), Elizabeth Warren, Democratic congressional candidates, and the head of a teacher union.

Heck, we could create a giant list of all the rich leftists who exercise choice for their own children while voting to deny similar opportunities for kids from families that don’t have lots of money.

And this is why I’m overjoyed that we have seen a lot of progress on the issue this year.

And it’s continuing. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about recent steps to expand choice in Florida.

Florida already has among the most expansive school-choice offerings in the nation, and this week the Legislature expanded private-school vouchers to more families. …The bill increases the eligible household income cap from 300% to 375% of the poverty level—about $100,000 for a family of four—though it prioritizes households under 185%. The enrollment cap will continue to escalate by 1% of public-school enrollment annually, allowing roughly 28,000 new students each year. …One of the bill’s biggest boons is extending scholarships to students already in private school. …Florida is a haven for overtaxed northerners, but it’s also an education refuge for low- and middle-income families.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson of Harvard has a column on how government lockdowns have created an opening for expanded educational freedom.

President Biden wants credit for opening up the nation’s schools within 100 days of taking office. …The big news at the 100-day mark isn’t school opening but the revival of the school-choice movement. …school-choice advocates have scored big victories around the country. Indiana enlarged its voucher program. Montana lifted caps on charter schools. Arkansas now offers tax-credit scholarships to low-income students. West Virginia and Kentucky have funded savings accounts that help parents pay tuition at private schools. Florida, a movement leader, has enlarged its tax-credit scholarship programs. Even Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee promises to veto a moratorium on new charter schools. …The pandemic is the driving force. The failure of the public schools to educate children in the past year has angered parents and policy makers. …the loss of learning and social connectivity produced by school closures has been devastating, especially for low-income minority children. …Survey data show a rise in the level of support over the past two years for vouchers, charters and tax-credit scholarships. Political leaders sense a change in the public mood. After aggressive unions and bewildered school boards shut down schools for a year, the choice bandwagon has begun to roll.

Let’s hope that choice bandwagon rolls further. It will be great for kids.

And, given the importance of quality education for competitiveness, it will be great for the nation as well.

P.S. I’m disgusted by the hypocritical politicians who send their kids to private schools while voting against school choice for the rest of us. But I’m even more disgusted – and baffled – that the NAACP opposes school choice when minority children have the most to gain.

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I’m pessimistic about the direction of public policy, especially on fiscal issues such as taxes and spending.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of statism. We’re seeing continuing progress on school choice, most notably a big expansion of educational freedom in West Virginia.

It appears more and more state and local policy makers are reaching the inevitable conclusion that government schools operate for the benefit of teacher unions rather than students.

And this is motivating many legislators to push for school choice, especially since there’s more and more evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal opined last week about a new victory in Indiana.

Ten years ago in these columns, we hailed Indiana for its leadership in establishing one of America’s most ambitious school voucher programs. On Thursday the Indiana Legislature built on that achievement by approving a budget that will take the program to 48,000 students a year from about 37,000. …The teachers unions are unhappy. Their beef is that money to expand choice is taken from traditional public schools. And this year they lobbied local school boards to pass resolutions opposed to school choice. But that common union line about choice robbing public schools isn’t true. …92% of Indiana students will be in traditional public schools, and 93% of all education funding will go to these schools. …Since 2011, when Indiana pushed through its first voucher plan, more than a quarter-million Hoosier students have benefited. In an interview with Today’s Catholic, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explains the moral logic of choice this way: “Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas may be on the verge of adding to the good news.

Here are some excerpts from an article by Jason Bedrick in National Review.

In response to families demanding more educational options, six states have already passed new choice policies or expanded existing ones this year, and similar bills are still making their way through more than a dozen other state legislatures. …the Arkansas state senate…passed Senate Bill 680, which has the support of Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Education, by an overwhelming margin. Although only half the size of the previous proposal and limited only to low-income children, the bill still represents a major step toward providing broad access to educational choice. The Arkansas House now has another opportunity to do right by Arkansas families desperate for more educational options. …the Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to recommend that the full House pass the bill.

The superintendents of government schools are fighting to preserve the status quo. Their main argument is that choice will hurt outcomes for students stuck in their schools.

But competition encourages everyone to do better, and Jason shares some of the evidence about government schools doing better when there is school choice .

The research about the effects of educational-choice policies on public schools…overwhelmingly finds that such policies benefit not only participating students, but also the students who remain in their assigned district schools. Out of 27 studies, 25 find that students attending district schools improve their performance on standardized tests after the introduction of a choice program, while only one study found a negative effect, and one found no visible effect. …a recent study by the University of Arkansas found that states with robust educational-choice policies saw significant improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) over the last two decades. …The sky isn’t falling in any of the 29 states that have some form of private-school-choice program. Indeed, the sun is still shining on their public-school systems, which have not only not collapsed but are actually performing better than before.

Fingers crossed that Arkansas lawmakers do what’s right for kids rather than siding with the education bureaucracy.

Let’s conclude with this video from the Institute of Justice, which makes the point that school choice is especially critical for those with low incomes and other challenging backgrounds.

I shared a similar video back in 2016 as part of a column about why school choice is critical for black children.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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As a public finance economist, I’m a huge fan of fiscal reforms such as a spending cap or a flat tax.

But, if asked to pick the reform that would have the biggest positive impact for the United States, I’d be very tempted to pick school choice.

Largely because of the pernicious effect of teacher unions, government schools are doing a poor job of educating children. Especially considering the record amounts of money that’s being dumped into the system.

Which is why I’m very excited that we’re about to see a massive expansion of school choice in West Virginia.

The state legislature has enacted and the governor is expected to sign (fingers crossed!) legislation creating education savings accounts (ESAs) providing $4,600 per child.

These accounts, called Hope Scholarships, will be available to all families with kids in government schools (and every single new kindergarten student). Parents then can use the funds for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a range of other approved items.

The state’s leading think tank, the Cardinal Institute, has a primer on the issue.

ESAs allow parents to apply for eligible students to receive the state portion of education funds into a personal, parent-controlled account. Parents are then empowered to customize an education experience that meets the individual needs of their child, using their account to pay for approved services like tuition, therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and more. …the bill would extend ESAs to students who are enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school… parents will only be able to purchase approved items and services. This makes ESAs as—if not more—transparent than any other form of education spending. …The key aspect that distinguishes ESAs from vouchers is parent control and customization. Instead of the state sending funds directly from the state to a specific private school, the state instead deposits funds into a parent-controlled account. These funds can then be spent on wide array of approved education services, not only tuition

Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey address some of the hot-button issues in an article for Reason.

West Virginia’s public schools spend an average of $12,644 per child per year, while the estimated amount of funding that would follow the child under HB 2013 would be about $4,600. If the legislation becomes law, public schools would keep large amounts of funding for children even after they left, meaning they would end up with more money per child. …choice opponents in the state also are claiming that $4,600 is too low to cover private school tuition. But do those same people oppose Pell Grants just because they don’t cover the full cost of attending many universities? …And $4,600 would actually go a long way in West Virginia as the average private school tuition in the state is just $6,068 and the average elementary school cost is $4,890. …The worst thing about anti-school choice myths is that they disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from access to much-needed education options.

Amen to the last point.

School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century since black and brown kids are the biggest victims of the government school monopoly.

I’ll close by observing that teacher unions traditionally have done a very good job of protecting their monopoly. Every time I think a state is poised to make progress on school choice (most recently in Pennsylvania and Colorado), the unions dump tons of money into campaigns so they can maintain their privileges.

Assuming West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, doesn’t betray children by unexpectedly vetoing the legislation, the union win streak will have ended.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Government schools in America are a national disgrace.

Every year, we throw more money into the system and every year we get back mediocre results.

The numbers are especially depressing when you compare how other nations get better outcomes while having significantly lower levels of per-pupil spending.

Given this grim situation, I’m always on the lookout for analysis that can help us figure out how to make things better.

Though some people seemingly want to make things worse.

In an article for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan reveals how elite private schools have become high-pressure pathways for entrance to elite colleges. It’s a fascinating – and even disturbing – look at the life of people (mostly) in the top-1 percent.

But what grabbed my attention was her conclusion. She accurately observes that government schools do a crappy job, but then suggests that high-performing private schools are the problem.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item. …We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. …Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. …Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

At the risk of understatement, this point of view (the article’s headline in the print edition is “Private Schools Are Indefensible”) is utterly perverse.

If we know that private schools do a better job (and not just the super-elite schools discussed in the article), then the ethical answer should be to get rid of the government school monopoly and adopt a system of school choice so that the children of non-rich families also have an opportunity to get a quality education.

That would be good for kids and it would be good for taxpayers (we’re spending record amounts of money on the failed government school monopoly, so turning that money into vouchers would provide enough funding for families to afford the vast majority of private schools).

But this brings up another issue. What if leftists aren’t just against private education? What if they also object to any sort of system where better students get better outcomes?

Chester Finn of the Hoover Institution wrote a column last November for the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to undermine the tiny handful of high-performing government schools.

Nationwide, selective-admission public schools, also known as “exam schools,” are under attack… Much like elite universities, critics allege, these schools have been admitting far too many whites and Asians and not nearly enough blacks and Latinos. …in New York, …admission…is governed by the eighth-grader’ scores on a specialized admission test. …there’s no denying that they’re full of Asian and white kids, many from low-income and middle-class families. …Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor have recently pushed to make the admissions process more “equitable.” They want to…abolish the entry exam…[i]nstead of repairing the elementary and middle schools attended by poor and minority kids… Consider another furor in Virginia, over admission to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, regularly ranked the country’s top high school by U.S. News. Thomas Jefferson is in such demand that it can accept fewer than 1 in 6 applicants. …The Fairfax County superintendent and board last month moved to abolish the qualification exam… the remedies being sought in every case are wrongheaded. …School systems…have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. …The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities.

I’m almost at a loss for words.

For all intents and purposes, our friends on the left would rather have everyone be mediocre than allow some students to succeed.

  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending private school.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending so-called exam schools.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by taking accelerated classes.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending charter schools.
  • They don’t want some kid to succeed by being home-schooled.

This hostility to achievement is reprehensible.

Part of it is probably motivated by a cynical attempt to appease teacher unions.

And part of it is presumably the ideological belief in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, even if the net result is that all students are worse off (the same perverse instinct that leads them to support economic policies that hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt more).

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I have a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame to highlight government employees who have turned sloth and overcompensation into an art form, and I have a Moocher Hall of Fame to illustrate the destructive entitlement mindset that exists when politicians pay people to do nothing.

I’m now thinking we also need another Hall of Fame to bring attention to the despicable people who oppose school choice because currying favor with teacher unions is more important than giving poor children an opportunity for a good education.

Some of the charter members would include:

And we many need to include Joe Biden on this tawdry list.

We’ll know soon enough. There’s a federally funded school choice program in Washington, DC, and time will tell whether the President intends to kill it.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Virginia Walden Ford expresses hope that President Biden won’t sacrifice the needs of minority children in the nation’s capital.

I hope his administration doesn’t tear down a program that has brought hope to thousands of African-American children in the District of Columbia. In 2004, Congress created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. …In 2020-21, 82% of scholarship recipients identified as African-American and another 12% as Hispanic. While scholarships for poor children of color should hold bipartisan appeal, the…2020 Biden-Sanders “unity” platform went out of its way to recommend defunding the program.

Ms. Ford isn’t opposed to government schools, but she does want poor kids to have the same opportunity as Joe Biden’s kids.

I strongly support both public education and school choice. I attended public schools, and my father served as the first African-American school administrator in Little Rock, Ark.—for which my family received a burning cross on our front yard. …What really undermines public education is attempts from elites to keep good education for themselves… Mr. Biden’s children went to private schools. Why shouldn’t my former neighbors in Southeast Washington have the opportunity to do so too?

I’ll close by observing that many of the people opposing school choice are total hypocrites. They send their kids to private schools while fighting to deny hope and opportunity for children from poor families.

Including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Obama’s Education Secretary, both of whom also would be charter members of a new Hall of Fame for policy makers who care more about union bosses than poor kids.

There are folks on the left who have genuine integrity on this issue, including the editors at the Washington Post.

P.S. At the risk of stating the obvious, the solution is not dumping more money into government-run schools. We’ve tried that and tried that and tried that, over and over again, and it never works.

P.P.S. For example, Bush’s No Child Left Behind (which I call No Bureaucrat Left Behind) was a failure, as was Obama’s Common Core.

P.P.P.S. Instead of throwing good money after bad and imposing more centralization, getting rid of the Department of Education in Washington would be a far-preferable approach (we’d be copying Canada with that approach).

P.P.P.P.S. If you want evidence on the benefits of school choice, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. There’s also international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Coronavirus has been a dark cloud. But if we want to find a silver lining, the government’s bungled response to the pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in the government school monopoly.

And this could mean opportunity for competing structures that can do a better job of educating kids.

  • School choice – An approach where parents get vouchers that they can send their kids to schools, either government or private, that compete to best serve their needs and interests.
  • Home schooling – An approach where parents direct their children’s education, often in cooperation with other parents and experts who specialize in certain fields.
  • Charter schools – An approach where education entrepreneurs (often groups of parents) set up government schools that operate outside of the existing monopoly.

Even before the coronavirus, there was plenty of evidence against the government’s monopoly.

Politicians have been shoveling ever-larger amounts of money into the system. Yet student outcomes have not improved.

Why? Part of the answer is that too many schools systems are run for the benefit of teacher unions, with student outcomes being a secondary (at best) concern.

And that problem has become increasingly apparent because of the pandemic.

But, in an article for Reason, Matt Welch hopes the despicable behavior of teacher unions may lead to long-overdue reforms.

…in the COVID-scarred year of 2020. Teachers unions, and the (largely Democratic) politicians they back, have relentlessly limited parental choice in the name of maximizing the autonomy of teachers to opt out of classrooms while still getting paid. No other country in the industrialized world has closed schools down to this degree. …The remote learning that tens of millions of kids are suffering through nationally is broadly understood to be a disaster. The results are as predictable as day following night: Parents are pulling their kids out of public schools. …I’m furious that public schools have used our money to fail poor kids. …unions and their allies have made America a global outlier in keeping schools shut, driving parents away from the systems, and some cities, in droves. …the same guilds that have such a concentrated amount of power are soon going to find themselves having to explain to the rank and file just why there aren’t as many jobs anymore.

Or, maybe the union bosses should explain why sauce for the goose isn’t also sauce for the gander.

They vigorously defend their jobs and perks, but they often make sure their kids aren’t victimized by the system.

For instance, here’s the headline of a story forwarded to me by a reader.

Not that I’m surprised.

I’ve shared many examples of two-faced behavior by defenders of the government education monopoly – crummy schools for the children of ordinary people but high-quality private schools for their kids.

So can we hope for reform?

Most of the action will need to take place at the state and local level, but the federal government unfortunately has been playing a bigger role in schooling, so it’s also worth paying attention to what we’ll get from the Biden Administration.

In a column for New York, Jonathan Chait worries that Democrats are so cowed by teacher unions that they aren’t even willing to maintain support for charter schools.

…charter schools have produced dramatic learning gains for low-income minority students. In city after city, from New York to New Orleans, charters have found ways to reach the children who have been most consistently failed by traditional schools. The evidence for their success has become overwhelming, with apolitical education researchers pronouncing themselves shocked at the size of the gains. …in 2015, a survey focused on charters in urban districts, where education reformers have concentrated their energies (and where gains have outpaced suburban and rural areas). It found urban charters on average gave their students the equivalent of 40 additional school days of learning in math and 28 additional days of learning in reading every year. CREDO’s studies confirm the conclusion that the lottery studies have found: In most cases, urban charters now provide the same group of students much better instruction. …The ability of urban charters all over the country to get nonselective groups of poor, Black students to learn at the same level as students in affluent, middle-class schools is one of the great domestic-policy achievements in American history.

Chait is on the left, but he’s honest.

So he recognizes that this is a battle over what really matters – currying favor with teacher unions or delivering better education for kids.

The final element of charters’ formula is inescapably controversial. They prioritize the welfare of their students over those of their employees, which means paying teachers based on effectiveness rather than how long they’ve been on the job — and being able to fire the worst ones. …the traditional practice of granting teachers near-total job security, without any differentiation based on performance, is a disaster for children.

Sadly, many folks on the left have decided that union bosses matter more than children.

They’re even willing to condemn minority children to substandard education to keep the unions happy.

…the second outcome of the charter-school breakthrough has been a bitter backlash within the Democratic Party. The political standing of the idea has moved in the opposite direction of the data, as two powerful forces — unions and progressive activists — have come to regard charter schools as a plutocratic assault on public education and an ideological betrayal. …as Biden turns from campaigning to governing, whether he will follow through on his threats to rein them in — or heed the data and permit charter schools to flourish — is perhaps the most unsettled policy mystery of his emerging administration. …or many education specialists, the left’s near abandonment of charter schools has been a bleak spectacle of unlearning — the equivalent of Lincoln promising to rip out municipal water systems or Eisenhower pledging to ban the polio vaccine. …Today, teachers unions have adopted a militant defense of the tenure prerogatives of their least effective members, equating that stance with a defense of the teaching profession as a whole. They have effectively mobilized progressives (and resurgent socialist activists) to their cause, which they identify as a defense of “public education”.

The actions of white leftists is particularly disgusting.

Polls show that the backlash against charters has been mainly confined to white liberals, while Black and Latino Democrats — whose children are disproportionately enrolled in those schools — remain supportive.

Though there are exceptions, to be sure. Not just Chait, but even the editors at the Washington Post.

But I fear too many Democrats have made a deal with the devil.

Teacher unions bring money and votes to the table. Meanwhile, many Democrats take for granted the votes of minorities. Given these real-world considerations, it makes sense (from a self-interest perspective) to side with the union bosses.

But from a humanitarian perspective, that’s an awful choice.

For what it’s worth, I have zero hope that Biden will be sympathetic to genuine school choice. But there’s a chance he could follow Obama and be somewhat open to charter schools.

And if that happens because of the coronavirus, that will indeed be a silver lining.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Writing about the failed government education monopoly back in 2013, I paraphrased Winston Churchill and observed that, “never has so much been spent so recklessly with such meager results.”

This more-recent data from Mark Perry shows that inflation-adjusted spending has ballooned in recent decades, driven in part by teacher expenses but even more so by the cost of bureaucrats.

Robby Soave recently wrote about the hypocrisy of one of those non-teaching bureaucrats.

In a must-read article for Reason, he notes that the lavishly compensated superintendent of government schools in a suburb of Washington, DC, has decided that one of his kids will get a better education at a private school.

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Gregory Hutchings has always been proud to call himself a parent of two children who attend public school. …But now, Hutchings has pulled one of his kids from ACPS—which remains all-virtual, to the frustration of many parents—and instead enrolled the child in a private Catholic high school currently following a hybrid model: some distance learning, and some in-person education. …It’s hard to blame Hutchings for trying to do right by his own child. But he is in a position to do right by thousands of other kids who don’t have the same opportunity.

Mr. Hutchings is a hypocrite, but that’s hardly a surprise.

So was Barack Obama. And Obama’s Secretary of Education. Lots of other leftists also have opposed school choice while allowing their kids to benefit from superior private schools, including Elizabeth Warren.

Why are they hypocrites? Because they put the self-interest of teacher unions before the educational interests of other people’s children.

But let’s return to Mr. Hutchings, because not only is he a hypocrite, he’s also a believer in equal levels of mediocrity.

Hutchings previously expressed concerns about parents seeking alternative educational arrangements. In a July 23 virtual conversation with parents and teachers detailing the district’s fall plans, Hutchings fretted that in-person learning pods would cause some students to get ahead of their Zoom-based public school counterparts. …Hutchings described pod-based learners as “privileged.” “If you’re able to put your child in a learning pod, your kids are getting ahead,” he said. “The other students don’t get that same access.” Students enrolled in pod-based learning, private tutoring, or private schooling that involves in-person instruction are indeed better off than those languishing in virtual education. But that’s a failure of public schools, which have largely chosen to privilege the demands of unions over the needs of children.

This is truly reprehensible.

In the past, I’ve criticized President George W. Bush “No Child Left Behind” scheme because it involved more centralization and more wasted money.

Hutchings is even worse. His policy should be called “No Child Gets Ahead.” And he’s not alone. My home county of Fairfax has the same disgusting attitude.

All things considered, Mr. Hutchings deserves membership in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

P.S. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, that the record spending increases for government schools have not been matched by improvements in educational outcomes. Heck, the chart shows that there haven’t been any improvements.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but keep in mind that the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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I’ve been writing about the benefits of school choice for a long time, largely because government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while produced ever-more dismal outcomes.

But even I was surprised to see this tweet, which shows how so many parents in New York City seek alternative educational opportunities for their children.

What makes these numbers so shocking is that parents are forced to pay for government schools. So when they opt for alternatives such as private schools, they’re paying twice.

But they decide the extra cost is justified because they know government-run schools don’t do a good job (and those failures have become even more apparent because of coronavirus).

For instance, David Harsanyi indicts government schooling in an article for National Review.

“Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. …State-run schools have undercut two fundamental conditions of a healthy tolerant society. First, they’ve created millions of civic illiterates who are disconnected from long-held communal values and national identity. Second, they’ve exacerbated the very inequalities that trigger the tearing apart of fissures. …No institution has fought harder to preserve segregated communities than the average teachers’ union. …Prosperous Americans already enjoy school choice — and not merely because they can afford private schools. …This entire dynamic is driven by the antiquated notion that the best way to educate kids is to throw them into the nearest government building. It’s the teachers’ unions that safeguard these fiefdoms through racketeering schemes: First they funnel taxpayer dollars to the political campaigns of allies who, when elected, return the favor by protecting union monopolies and supporting higher taxes that fund unions and ultimately political campaigns. …most poor parents, typically black or Hispanic, are compelled to send their kids to inferior schools… Joe Biden says he’ll create not a child-oriented Department of Education but a “teacher-oriented Department of Education.” By teachers, Biden means unions. …It’s likely that left-wing ideologues run your school district. They decide what your children learn. …The embedded left-wing nature of big school districts is so normalized that parents rarely say a word. …a voucher system creates opportunities for all kinds of students, not just wealthy ones.

I suppose it should explicitly stated that those opportunities would produce better results, both for taxpayers and for kids.

In an article for the American Institute for Economic Research, Gregory van Kipnis compares government schools and private schools.

Only when there is a monopoly are we denied choice. The negative consequences of that are well known… Monopolies produce goods and services at a higher price and a lower quality than would be obtained in a competitive market. That is certainly the case with public education. …society should be interested in data about the costs and outcomes of different approaches to education, namely public versus private schools, and how this data should affect our choices and behavior.

And what does the data tell us?

…currently (as of 2018), a public school education in the US costs 89% more than private education; that is, $14,653 for a public school and $7,736 for a private education. The high relative cost of public school education has persisted since the earliest period for which the data has been collected – 1965 (Chart 1a). …Private education is significantly less expensive.

Here’s the chart showing that government schools are far more expensive.

This raises a separate question: Are government schools more expensive because they’re producing better results?

Nope.

While the generally accepted knowledge is that private education produces better results than public school education, …Chart 4…shows the trends and levels in the composite ACT test results (meaning for math and reading combined) for the period 2001-2014, for private, public and homeschooled children. …The results speak for themselves – private schools test at a significantly higher level than public schools, and the gap is widening.

Here’s a chart showing the difference.

So what’s the bottom line?

Consumers of any product know they get better outcomes, as measured by quality and price, if the product is offered in competitive markets. This is true even in markets that have only limited competition. Any competition is better than none. Just as that principle is true in the markets for cars and cafes, so it is true in the market for educational services. …It is manifestly cheaper to get a private education and get a far better education in a private school. The problem holding back the growth in private education is that you have to pay twice to get it. The economics and facts support the logic of freeing parents to obtain private education and alternative public education for their children. To further facilitate this decision, parents should be given vouchers and credits equal to the cost of public school in their area, which they can freely use to fund their choice of better education in the private sector.

Amen. School choices produces better educational outcomes and saves money for taxpayers.

Hard to argue with the data (unless, of course, your motive is to appease teacher unions).

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I’m a huge fan of school choice. Simply stated, private schools deliver far superior results for children compared to costly and bureaucratic government schools.

Moreover, given the way minorities are poorly served by the status quo, school choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

But what about charter schools, which are hybrid creatures. They’re government schools, but they’re largely independent of bureaucratic constraints, and they also have to compete for students, which means they face similar incentives and get to operate in a similar fashion to private schools.

I’ve never analyzed the degree to which these schools are successful, but I remember being stunned when I was writing last year about “National Education Week” and saw a map showing the incredibly high demand for charter schools from parents in poor areas of Washington, DC.

What did those parents know that I didn’t know?

Well, it turns out that they must know that charter schools are a much better option than regular government schools.

There’s some new research, just published by Education Next, by Professor Paul Peterson and Danish Shakeel of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance that looks at the comparative performance of charter schools.

Here’s a description of the study’s methodology.

…we track changes in student performance at charter and district schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests reading and math skills of a nationally representative sample of students every other year. We focus on trends in student performance from 2005 through 2017 to get a sense of the direction in which the district and charter sectors are heading. We also control for differences in students’ background characteristics. This is the first study to use this information to compare trend lines. Most prior research has compared the relative effectiveness of the charter and district sectors at a single point in time.

They wanted to investigate this topic because charter schools are increasingly popular.

School systems in 43 states and the District of Columbia now include charter schools, and in states like California, Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana, more than one in 10 public-school students attend them. In some big cities, those numbers are even larger: 45 percent in Washington, D.C., 37 percent in Philadelphia, and 15 percent in Los Angeles. Nationwide, charter enrollment tripled between 2005 and 2017, with the number of charter students growing from 2 percent to 6 percent of all public-school students. …one in three charter students is African American.

Here are the results.

As you can see, charter schools are attracting more students because parents want better outcomes.

Our analysis shows that student cohorts in the charter sector made greater gains from 2005 to 2017 than did cohorts in the district sector. The difference in the trends in the two sectors amounts to nearly an additional half-year’s worth of learning. The biggest gains are for African Americans and for students of low socioeconomic status attending charter schools. …The average gains by 4th- and 8th-grade charter students are approximately twice as large as those by students in district schools.

Here are the relevant charts from the study.

Here’s a chart showing that charter schools produce bigger gains in both math and reading, whether looking at students in 4th grade or 8th grade.

The next chart shows that black student are big beneficiaries when they can choose something other than a traditional government school

Last, but not least, our final visual looks at the gains for disadvantaged students.

This is all good news.

But there’s also some bad news.

Joe Biden wants to curry favor with teacher unions and that means he has come out against charter schools and other reforms that threaten the existing education monopoly.

This puts him to the left of Obama on this issue (as is the case on many issues). Heck, he’s also to the left of the Washington Post.

So if Biden wins, this could be very bad news for poor kids that don’t have any other educational alternatives.

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Way before we had a pandemic, I wasn’t a fan of the government school monopoly.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many taxpayers paid so much money into a system that produced such mediocre results for so many people.

Now that we have a pandemic, the argument against government-run schools is even stronger. Simply stated the government monopoly is too politicized and too inflexible – and that means the the gap between government schools and private schools (and homeschooling) will be larger than ever.

Today, I want to show how the system is driven by bad ideology and bad incentives.

Let’s look at a recent announcement from the government schools where I live in Fairfax, VA. The bureaucrats don’t like when parents utilize private tutors because they would rather have all students fall behind than have some succeed.

Across the country, many parents are joining together to engage private tutors (who are often school teachers) to provide tutoring or home instruction for small groups of children. While there is no systematic way to track these private efforts, it’s clear that a number of “pandemic pods” or tutoring pods are being established in Fairfax County. …these instructional efforts are not supported by or in any way controlled by FCPS… While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students.

Mike Gonzalez had the same reaction. He, too, was surprised that the bureaucrats would openly state their ideological desire for universal mediocrity.

There are similar problems in other communities surrounding Washington, DC.

In his column for the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney explains how government school bureaucracies – including where he lives in Montgomery County, Maryland – care more about preserving the flow of tax dollars than educational success for kids.

Because public schools will be offering a vastly inferior service this year (remote-only learning), the allies of public schools and their teachers’ unions worry about parents pulling their children into private schools — and so they are trying to take away some of the private schools’ advantage. …after Gov. Larry Hogan struck down a county order barring private schools, one public school teacher wrote a public Facebook post nearly admitting as much: “MCPS parents… Please keep your kids enrolled in MCPS! Loss of funding will be devastating, not only this school year, but in the years to come, when we need to try to increase funding again.” …The public school superintendent in Falls Church City, a small, wealthy municipality just outside of D.C., wrote a similar note warning against “Pandemic Flight.” …Peter Noonan..warned parents that “disenrolling from FCCPS [will] have consequences. FCCPS receives funding from the local Government, the State Government, and the Federal Government based on the numbers of students we have enrolled. If there is an exodus of students from FCCPS, the funding of our schools will decrease.” Notice what’s missing in this letter? Any suggestion that your children will learn just fine through the public schools’ online learning system. …public school administrators know that they are offering an inferior product… Sadly, rather than wanting what’s best for their students, they ask parents to do what will bring more taxpayer money for their schools.

For what it’s worth, I also think teacher unions and school bureaucrats also don’t want parents to experience even a year of private schooling or homeschooling, lest they learn that there are better long-run options for their kids.

P.S. My criticism of the government school monopoly does not in any way imply that teachers are bad people (like all professions and groups, some will be good and some will be bad). It simply means they are in a bad system. Indeed, one of the benefits of school choice is that good teachers will flourish thanks to competition and innovation.

P.P.S. Yes, we have strong evidence from some states and localities in America that school choice produces better educational outcomes. But I always remind people that there’s also global evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands showing good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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One month ago, I wrote that expanded school choice might be a silver lining to the dark cloud of corornavirus.

This issue is getting more heated, as this Reason video explains.

When I’ve written in the past about the issue of school choice, I’ve focused on the superior educational outcomes of private schools (and homeschooling as well) compared to the subpar performance of government schools.

Let’s revisit the topic, looking specifically at the debate over whether schools should reopen.

  • Some people argue that children will suffer long-term harm because of diminished educational outcomes if schools are closed.
  • Others argue that there may be additional infections if schools are opened, risking the lives of children or members of their families.

At the risk of sounding like a mealy-mouthed politician, both sides are right.

Simply stated, there are potential downsides regardless of which option is selected.

And it’s quite likely that the right approach for some families will be the wrong approach for other families.

This is a very powerful argument for the kind of decentralized decision-making that is only possible with school choice.

  • Some parents may want a traditional in-a-classroom experience for their children.
  • Some parents may want a blended in-person/online approach for their kids.
  • Some parents may want education for their kids to be entirely online.
  • Some parents may want to choose homeschooling for their children.
  • Some parents may want to experiment with new approaches such as pod teaching.

And the only way to satisfy these disparate desires is to break the government’s monopoly on education.

Let’s look at some recent analysis.

Writing for National Review, Cathy Ruse and Tony Perkins explain why we need alternatives to a one-size-fits-all government monopoly.

…the great American entrepreneurial spirit is awakening as parents are forced to rethink education for their children. And that is to the benefit of children and the nation. …There is no better time to make a change than right now, when public education is in chaos. Parent resource groups are forming to help families make an exit strategy and find the best education option for their children. Today, there are more options than ever. …Homeschooling continues to be a growing trend… “Hybrid homeschooling” is a new option, where children are homeschooled part of the week and learn in a more traditional school setting with other students for the rest. The most exciting new parent solution is the “pandemic pod,” a return to where families in one neighborhood or social circle hire a teacher to instruct their small group of children. …The last piece of the puzzle to set families truly free to make the best education decisions for their children is for states to set free public-education funds. …Imagine the possibilities if the primary educators of children — their parents — were given the freedom to spend that money to acquire the best education for their child. ..Let’s rethink, not rotely reopen. If there ever was a time when parent power could defeat the power and monopoly of the education elites, that time is now. Let freedom ring! 

J.D. Tuccille discussed the options, including homeschooling, in a column for Reason.

Chicago Public Schools became the latest large school district to opt for online-only lessons in the fall. …it leaves a lot of Chicago families unhappy and—like their counterparts around the country—heading for the exits, in search of options that better suit their needs now and in the future. …That leaves even many families favoring online classes as dissatisfied as those preferring in-person learning—and not just in Chicago. Across the country, there has been a surge in interest in traditional alternatives such as private schools as well as homeschooling, microschools (which essentially reimagine one-room schools for the modern world), and learning pods (in which families pool kids and resources). …the lines are blurry among the various categories of DIY education. But why shouldn’t they be blurry? Families aren’t interested in imposing rigid models on their kids; they’re trying to educate their children and adopting whatever tools and techniques get the job done. …Now, “23 percent of families who had children attending traditional public schools say they currently plan to send their children to another type of school when the lockdowns are over,” according to some admittedly unscientific polling… “Notably, 15 percent of respondents said they would choose to homeschool their children when schools reopen.”

As you might expect, the unions representing teachers from government schools have a much different perspective.

As the Wall Street Journal recently explained in an editorial, they’re using the crisis as an excuse to demand more money.

…teachers unions seem to think it’s…an opportunity…to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business. …an alliance of teachers unions and progressive groups sponsored what they called a “national day of resistance” around the country listing their demands before returning to the classroom. They include…canceling rents and mortgages, a moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance… Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing…federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street” …If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Americans are getting a closer look at the true, self-interested character of today’s teachers unions. …The proper political response should be to give taxpayer dollars to parents to decide where and how to educate their children. If parents want to use the money for private schools that are open, or for new forms of home instruction, they should have that right.

By the way, it’s not just that teacher unions want more money.

They also deliver an inferior product.

And a politicized product as well. Read this thread to be horrified about what is being “taught” to children trapped in government schools.

Let’s close with a very appropriate cartoon.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

 

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The coronavirus has been horrible news, most obviously because of death and suffering. But the disease has also wreaked havoc with the economy and given politicians an excuse to push counterproductive policies.

But if you want to find a silver lining to that dark cloud, the virus may be putting pressure on America’s government school monopoly. For instance, John Stossel explains that it may lead to more homeschooling.

Given the large amount of evidence showing superior outcomes for home-schooled students, this is definitely a much-needed bit of good news.

Matthew Hennessey, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, also opined about how the coronavirus may produce a permanent expansion of home schooling.

Most students will return to traditional classrooms when the crisis passes. But some families—perhaps many—will…decide that homeschooling is not only a plausible option, but a superior one. …An economy of high-quality online educational materials has sprouted in the past decade. All you need is a laptop, headphones and a quiet corner of the house, and your kid can study everything from calculus to ancient Greek. …Education has managed to stave off innovation for a variety of reasons. Inertia is one—most people have a hard time reimagining something as basic as school. …Teachers unions are politically strong and uninterested in anything that threatens their power. But now the pandemic…can shake up the established order… If more Americans come to see the viability and value of home education, it could be a silver lining in a very dark cloud.

Private schools also provide a superior alternative to the government’s monopoly system.

That was true before the coronavirus, and it’s even more true today. This report from the New York Times has some details.

Public schools plan to open not at all or just a few days a week, while many neighboring private schools are opening full time. …the ways in which private schools are reopening show it can be done with creative ideas…reopening plans are just another way the pandemic has widened gaps in education. Private schools were able to offer much more robust online learning last spring, and research suggests that school closures have widened achievement gaps. …Independent schools don’t have all the same regulations for the curriculum or facilities that public schools have, and teachers generally aren’t unionized.

Writing for Reason, Corey DeAngelis highlights the more competent response of private schools.

A nationally representative survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs found that private and charter schools were substantially more likely to continue providing students with meaningful education services during the lockdown than traditional public schools. …Private and charter schools were about 20 percent more likely to introduce new content to their students during the lockdown. …Another national survey…found…students were more than twice as likely to connect with their teachers each day, and about 1.5 times as likely to attend online classes during the closures. …Parents of children in private and charter schools were at least 50 percent more likely to report being “very satisfied” with the instruction provided during the lockdown than parents of children in traditional public schools. …Private schools can adapt to change more effectively because they are less hampered down by onerous regulations than their government-run counterparts. …Private and charter schools know that their customers—families—can walk away and take their money with them if they fail to meet their needs.

Unsurprisingly, defenders of the status quo often claim that the government monopoly does a poor job because of inadequate money.

This is utter nonsense. I periodically share a chart put together by the late Andrew Coulson which shows how per-pupil spending in government schools has skyrocketed (with zero improvement in educational outcomes).

Perhaps even more relevant, it costs more, on average, for kids to attend government schools than it does for them to attend private schools.

And that assumes government schools are actually being honest about their true costs.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Researchers who have investigated the numbers have discovered pervasive under-counting (or non-counting) of big expenses such as building costs and pension obligations).

Adam Schaeffer narrated a video on this topic about ten years ago. Here’s a screenshot of the official numbers from various local governments compared to the actual costs.

What’s the bottom line? Instead of throwing good money after bad by rewarding under-performing government schools with bigger budgets, the right answer is comprehensive school choice.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, Canada, and the Netherlands shows good results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Today is Thomas Sowell’s 90th birthday. The man is a living legend.

I’ve cited his great work many times, and I definitely urge people to read what Walter Williams just wrote about his long-time friend.

And I also recommend this Mark Perry column, which contains 15 of Sowell’s most insightful quotes, as well as two videos of Sowell in action.

Sowell continues to amaze with prodigious productivity. His 56th book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, goes on sale today.

And he summarizes some of his arguments on that issue in this recent column in the Wall Street Journal.

New York’s charter school students are predominantly black and Hispanic, and live in low-income neighborhoods. In 2019, most students in the city’s public schools failed to pass the statewide tests in mathematics and English. But most of the city’s charter school students passed in both subjects. Such charter school results undermine theories of genetic determinism, claims of cultural bias in the tests… In 2013, a higher percentage of the fifth-graders in a Harlem charter school passed the mathematics test than any other public school fifth-graders in the entire state of New York. …In a number of low-income minority communities in New York City, charter school classes and classes in traditional public schools are held in the same buildings, serving the same communities. Some of the contrasts are almost unbelievable. In 28 classes in these buildings, fewer than 10% of the students reached the “proficient” level on statewide tests. All 28 classes were in traditional public schools. All charter school classes at the same grade levels in the same buildings did better—including six grade levels where the charter school majorities reaching the “proficient” level ranged from 81% to 100%.

Sounds like great news.

But there’s a dark lining to this cloud.

Competition from charter schools is an existential threat to traditional public schools in low-income minority communities… Teachers unions and traditional public school administrators have every reason to fear charter schools. In 2019 there were more than 50,000 New York City students on waiting lists to transfer into charter schools. …Among the ways of blocking students from transferring into charter schools is preventing charter schools from getting enough classrooms to put them in. …In cities across the country, public school officials are blocking charter schools from using school buildings that have been vacant for years to prevent transfers into charter schools from taking place. …In some places, vacant school buildings have been demolished, making sure no charter schools can use them. …anti-charter-school tactics by public school officials, politicians and teachers unions call into question pious statements by them that what they are doing is “for the sake of the children.” …their actions show repeatedly that protecting their own turf from the competition of charter schools is their top priority.

This is disgusting.

Union bosses, education bureaucrats, and captive politicians are sacrificing the hopes and dreams of minority children in order to preserve their monopoly system.

Even the NAACP has chosen to put leftist ideology above the best interest of black kids.

As did Barack Obama, even though he sent his own kids to an elite private school (Elizabeth Warren also is a reprehensible hypocrite on this issue).

Here’s some data on school enrollment in New York City and the rest of the state. As you can see, most whites have escaped the NYC government system, with more than 50 percent in private schools.  For many black families, though, their only affordable option is charters, and 20 percent of black kids are benefiting from this possibility.

Sadly, expanding charters is very difficult because of teacher unions and their political allies. They benefit if they keep kids trapped in a crummy system.

Needless to say, this also explains why it is so difficult to get school choice, which is an even better option.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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If I had to identify the most economically destructive part of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s agenda, I’d have a hard time picking between her confiscatory wealth tax and her so-called Medicare-for-All scheme.

The former would dampen wages and hinder growth by penalizing saving and investment, while the latter would hasten America’s path to Greece.

By contrast, it’s easy to identify the most ethically offensive part of her platform.

Just like President Obama, she’s a hypocrite who wants to deny poor families any escape from bad government schools, even though her family has benefited from private education.

To make matters worse, she’s even lied about the topic.

Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation has been on top of this issue. I recommend his article. And if you like exposing dishonest politicians, here’s a very snarky PG-13-rated tweet.

The Washington Free Beacon has some additional details.

Sarah Carpenter, a pro-school choice activist who organized a protest of Warren’s Thursday speech in Atlanta, told Warren that she had read news reports indicating the candidate had sent her kids to private school. Though Warren once favored school choice and was an advocate for charter schools, she changed her views while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. …Warren denied the claim, telling Carpenter, “My children went to public schools.” …however, …Warren’s son, Alex Warren, attended the Kirby Hall School for at least the 1986-1987 school year… The college preparatory school is known for its “academically advanced curriculum” and offers small class sizes for students in grades K-12. …Carpenter pressed Warren to reconsider her education plan, which would place stringent regulations on both charter and private schools. She told the candidate that she simply didn’t have the resources to exercise the same choices for her children that Warren appears to have made for her son.

Moreover, private schools are a family tradition, as the Daily Caller revealed.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, has a granddaughter who rubs shoulders with the children of movie stars at the trendy Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California. Tuition at Harvard-Westlake costs $35,900 each year. There’s also a $2,000 fee for new students. Harvard-Westlake offers a bevy of amazing opportunities for students including study-abroad programs in Spain, France, China, Italy and India. There’s also the Mountain School, “an independent semester program that provides high school juniors the opportunity to live and work on an organic farm in rural Vermont.”

If you want to learn more about Warren’s disingenuous posture, I also recommend this article by Chrissy Clark of the Federalist.

Anyhow, what makes her hypocrisy especially odious is that she was semi-good on the issue. At least back before political ambition caused here discard her moral compass.

Education Week looked at Warren’s record and confirmed she used to be sympathetic to school choice, albeit only for parents who wanted to choose among various types of government schools.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s education..plan’s contention that the nation must “stop the privatization and corruption of our public education system” and keep money from being “diverted” away from public schools through vouchers. …supporters of school choice cried foul. They pointed to what Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi wrote in The Two-Income Trap, a book they authored in 2003, as evidence that she once backed a voucher system for parents seeking education options for their children, but has now abandoned that position for political expediency and to please teachers’ unions. …In 2003, Warren and Tyagi wrote that while…many schools might technically be public, they said, many parents effectively paid tuition for good public schools through their ability to purchase a home in their attendance zones. …So how to solve it? “A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly,” the two authors stated, adding that “fully funded” vouchers would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.” …Essentially, what Warren and Tyagi wanted was an open enrollment system of public schools.

So why has her position “evolved”?

She’s decided that getting to the White House is more important than the best interests of poor children. The Daily Caller reports on Warren’s kowtowing to union bosses.

Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pledging to crack down on school choice if elected, despite the fact that she sent her own son to an elite private school, publicly available records show. The 2020 presidential candidate’s public education plan would ban for-profit charter schools…and eliminate government incentives for opening new non-profit charter schools, even though Warren has praised charter schools in the past. …Warren has pledged to reduce education options for families, but she chose to send her son Alexander to Kirby Hall, an elite private school near Austin. Tuition for Kirby Hall’s lower and middle schools — kindergarten through eighth grade — is $14,995 for the 2019-2020 school year. A year of high school costs $17,875. …“I do not blame Alex one bit for attending a private school in 5th grade. Good for him,” said Reason Foundation director of school choice Corey DeAngelis, who first flagged Alexander’s private schooling Monday. “This is about Warren exercising school choice for her own kids while fighting hard to prevent other families from having that option.” …Warren’s crackdown on elite charter schools would leave elite private schools like Kirby Hall unscathed, while greatly eliminating charter schools as a parallel option for lower-income families.

It’s important to note that this is an issue where honest people on the left are on the right side.

Here’s a recent editorial from the Washington Post.

…when it comes to education, Ms. Warren has a plan that seems aimed more at winning the support of the powerful teachers unions than in advancing policies that would help improve student learning. …Ms. Warren took a page from the union playbook in calling for a clampdown on public charter schools. In addition to banning for-profit charter schools (which make up about 15 percent of the sector), she would subject existing charters to more scrutiny and red tape and make it harder for new charters to open… Ms. Warren’s change of heart (which started in 2016, when she opposed a referendum that would have lifted caps on charter schools in Massachusetts), along with the silence of other Democrats who once championed charter schools (New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former vice president Joe Biden come to mind), is no mystery. The teachers unions wield outsize influence in the Democratic Party, and they revile the mostly non-unionized charter sector. …The losers in these political calculations are the children whom charters help. Charters at their best offer options to parents whose children would have been consigned to failing traditional schools. They spur reform in public school systems in such places as the District and Chicago. And high-quality charters lift the achievement of students of color, children from low-income families and English language learners. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found, for example, that African American students in charter schools gained an additional 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading per year compared with their traditional school counterparts. More than 3.2 million children already attend charter schools, and 5 million more would choose a charter school if one could open near them.

And Jonathan Chait of New York magazine is certainly not a conservative or libertarian, but he’s part of the honest left. As you might imagine, he’s also disappointed that Warren chose union bosses over poor children.

To be fair, there are plenty of other folks on the left who have sold their souls to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers – including, most disappointingly, the NAACP.

P.S. Some Republicans are hypocrites on the issue as well.

P.P.S. Speaking of hypocrites, President Obama’s Secretary of Education sent his kids to private schools, yet he fought to deny that opportunity to poor families. The modern version of standing in the schoolhouse door.

P.P.P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this column and this video.

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School choice is based on the simple premise that we’ll get better results if school budgets are distributed to parents so they can pick from schools that compete for their kids (and dollars).

The current system, by contrast, is an inefficient monopoly that largely caters to the interests of teacher unions and school bureaucrats. Which is why more money and more money and more money and more money and more money (you get the point) never translates into better outcomes.

This is why even the Washington Post has editorialized for choice-based reform.

A few years ago, I shared a bunch of data showing that school choice boosts academic results for kids.

As part of our recognition of National Education Week, let’s augment those results with some more-recent findings.

There’s new evidence, for instance, that Florida’s choice system is producing good results.

…new evidence from the Urban Institute, which…examined a larger data set of some 89,000 students. The researchers compared those who used school vouchers to public-school students with comparable math and reading scores, ethnicity, gender and disability status. …High school voucher students attend either two-year or four-year institutions at a rate of 64%, according to the report, compared to 54% for non-voucher students. For four-year colleges only, some 27% of voucher students attend compared to 19% for public-school peers. …About 12% of voucher students attended private universities, double the rate of non-voucher students. …Voucher students who entered the program in elementary or middle school were 11% more likely to get a bachelor’s degree, while students who entered in high school were 20% more likely. …High schoolers who stayed in the voucher program for at least three years “were about 5 percentage points more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, a 50 percent increase.”

A column published by the Foundation for Economic Education notes the positive outcomes in Wisconsin.

Private schools and independent public charter schools are more productive than district public schools, …according to report author Corey DeAngelis… DeAngelis compares the productivity of schools in cities throughout Wisconsin based on per-pupil funding and student achievement. Wisconsin’s four private-school parental choice programs currently enroll over 40,000 students combined, and more than 43,000 students are enrolled in charter schools. …Compared to Wisconsin district public schools, private schools participating in parental choice programs receive 27 percent less per-pupil funding, and charter schools receive 22 percent less. Yet these schools get more bang for every education buck, according to DeAngelis: “I find that private schools produce 2.27 more points on the Accountability Report Card for every $1,000 invested than district-run public schools [across 26 cities], demonstrating a 36 percent cost-effectiveness advantage for private schools. Independent charter schools produce 3.02 more points on the Accountability Report Card for every $1,000 invested than district-run public schools [throughout Milwaukee and Racine], demonstrating a 54 percent cost-effectiveness advantage for independent charter schools.”

A study looking at 11 school choice programs found very positive results.

Today 26 states and the District of Columbia have some private school choice program, and the trend is for more: Half of the programs have been established in the past five years. …a new study from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas shows…that voucher students show “statistically significant” improvement in math and reading test scores. The researchers found that vouchers on average increase the reading scores of students who get them by about 0.27 standard deviations and their math scores by about 0.15 standard deviations. In laymen’s terms, this means that on average voucher students enjoy the equivalent of several months of additional learning compared to non-voucher students. …“When you do the math, students achieve more when they have access to private school choice,” says Patrick J. Wolf, who conducted the study with M. Danish Shakeel and Kaitlin P. Anderson. …The Arkansas results aren’t likely to change union minds because vouchers are a mortal threat to their public-school monopoly. But for anyone who cares about how much kids learn, especially the poorest kids, the Arkansas study is welcome news that school choice delivers.

Even if choice is just limited to charter schools, there are positive outcomes, as seen from research on Michigan’s program.

Charter students in Detroit on average score 60% more proficient on state tests than kids attending the city’s traditional public schools. Eighteen of the top 25 schools in Detroit are charters while 23 of the bottom 25 are traditional schools. Two studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2013, 2015) found that students attending Michigan charters gained on average an additional two months of learning every year over their traditional school counterparts. Charter school students in Detroit gained three months.

Back in 2016, Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal shared some evidence about the benefits of choice.

Barack Obama…spent his entire presidency trying to shut down a school voucher program in Washington, D.C., that gives poor black and brown children access to private schools and, according to the Education Department’s own evaluation, improves their chances of graduating by as much as 21 percentage points. …Democrats continue to throw ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer money at the problem in return for political support from the teachers unions that control public education. …Harvard professor Martin West describes some of the more recent school-choice research. Students at Boston charter high schools “are more likely to take and pass Advance Placement courses and to enroll in a four-year rather than a two-year college,” writes Mr. West. Attending a charter middle school in Harlem “sharply reduced the chances of teen pregnancy (for girls) and incarceration (for boys),” and “a Florida charter school increased students’ earnings as adults.” Mr. West concludes that “attending a school of choice, whether private or charter, is especially beneficial for minority students living in urban areas.”

A study by the World Bank found big benefits from choice in Washington, D.C., with minorities being the biggest beneficiaries.

This paper develops and estimates an equilibrium model of charter school entry and school choice. In the model, households choose among public, private, and charter schools, and a regulator authorizes charter entry and mandates charter exit. The model is estimated for Washington, D.C. According to the estimates, charters generate net social gains by providing additional school options, and they benefit non-white, low-income, and middle-school students the most. Further, policies that raise the supply of prospective charter entrants in combination with high authorization standards enhance social welfare. …In order to quantify the net social gains generated by charter schools, we run a counterfactual consisting of not having charters at all in 2007. …charter students who switch into public schools outside Ward 3 experience lower proficiency, quality and value added than before. Proficiency losses are quite severe at the middle school level and for poor black students, who on average lose 6.4 and 5.3 percentage points out of their baseline average proficiency… On average all student groups lose welfare due to the loss of school options, but losses are the greatest for those previously most likely to attend charters. Middle school students, who gain much from the quantity and quality of options offered by charters, are particularly hurt. Further, poor blacks in middle school experience a loss of about 15 percent of their baseline welfare. …The 25 percent of students most hurt by charter removal are non-white, have an average household income of $27,000 and experience an average welfare loss equivalent to 19 percent of their income. …total social benefits fall by about $77,000,000 when the 59 charters are removed.

This map from the study is worth some careful attention.

It reveals that the rich and white families who live in northwestern D.C. don’t have any big need for choice. It’s the poor families (mostly black) elsewhere in the city who are anxious for alternatives.

(Which is why the NAACP’s decision to side with unions over black children is so reprehensible.)

The good news is that there’s ongoing movement to expand choice in some states.

The Wall Street Journal opined about significant progress in Florida.

With little fanfare this autumn, another 18,000 young Floridians joined the ranks of Americans who enjoy school choice. More than 100,000 students, all from families of modest means, already attend private schools using the state’s main tax-credit scholarship. But the wait list this spring ran to the thousands, so in May the state created a voucher program to clear the backlog. …This is a huge victory for school choice. The first cohort of voucher recipients is 71% black and Hispanic, according to state data. Eighty-seven percent have household incomes at or below 185% of the poverty line, or $47,638 for a family of four. The law gives priority to these students… Mr. DeSantis’s opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, said he would wind down the scholarships. CNN’s exit poll says 18% of black women voted for Mr. DeSantis… That’s decisive, since the Governor won by fewer than 40,000 ballots.

The final passage is worth emphasis. Reformers can attract votes from minority families who are ill-served by the government’s education monopoly,

Parents in low-income communities aren’t stupid. Once they figure out that government schools are run for the benefit of unions rather than children, they will respond accordingly.

And here’s some positive news from Tennessee.

Governor Bill Lee fulfilled a campaign promise on Friday when he signed a school voucher bill into law. …its passage is a big victory for the Governor and even more for Tennessee children trapped in failing public schools. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, the measure will provide debit cards averaging $7,300 each year for low-income families to use for education-related expenses. The money can pay for private-school tuition, textbooks or a tutor, among other things. The program is capped at a disappointingly low 15,000 students. Participation is also restricted to only two of the state’s 95 counties—Shelby and Davidson… This is where the need is greatest, given that these two counties have the most failing public schools.

To be sure, the union bosses are fighting back.

Over the years, we’ve seen setbacks in states where we hoped for progress, such as Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Let’s close with this very simple message…

…and this very persuasive video.

P.S. There’s also evidence that school choice is better for children’s mental health since it’s associated with lower suicide rates. That’s a nice fringe benefit, much like the data on school choice and jobs.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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I’ve shared some amazing stories about leftist hypocrisy over the years.

But if there was a first prize for statist hypocrisy (especially if timing is part of the contest), then the winner might be Dan McCready, a wannabe Congressman from North Carolina.

The Daily Caller has some of the jaw-dropping details.

McCready…is running against Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop in the Sept. 10 special election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District…during a candidate forum the Fayetteville NAACP hosted “…politicians like state Sen. Bishop,” McCready said at the event,… “They don’t believe in public schools. They do anything they can to conduct a war on schools.” …Despite McCready’s accusations that his political opponents lack faith in public schools, he has enrolled some of his own four children, ages 2 to 8, in a Charlotte-based private school with a tuition rate close to $18,000 per student.

Then again, maybe McCready’s hypocrisy isn’t so unusual. Rich politicians in Washington, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, routinely send their kids to private school while fighting to deny school choice for others.

Why?

To be fair, it’s not that they don’t like kids from poor families. The problem is that they put the interests of teacher unions ahead of the interests of those kids. Public Choice 101.

That’s despicable.

And what’s equally despicable is that the NAACP, where McCready was speaking, also opposes school choice – even though minority children suffer the most because of the failed government school monopoly.

Why?

Because they’re also bought off by the teacher unions.

I’ll close by directing your attention to this column about the empirical evidence for school choice.

P.S. It’s also uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands. And India doesn’t have school choice, but it’s a remarkable example of how private schools are the only good option for poor families that want upward mobility.

P.P.S. The Washington Post provides an example of honest and decent leftism, having editorialized in favor of poor children over teacher unions.

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Bernie Sanders is a delusional hard-core statist, but that’s part of what makes him attractive for some voters.

Simply stated, they think he’s authentic rather than a finger-in-the-wind politician.

But I’m not so sure that’s true.

I pointed out in 2015 that he’s not even true to his socialist ideology. Rather than promoting government ownership, central planning, and price controls, he has behaved like a conventional left-wing politician. Indeed, there was almost no difference between his voting record and those of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of judgement, of course.

Today, though, I want to highlight something that’s unambiguously bad. He’s decided that currying favor with union bosses at the National Education Association is so important that it’s okay to trap kids from poor families in failing schools. And that, to me, makes him a political hack rather than an honest leftist.

Check out these excerpts from a story in the New York Times.

Senator Bernie Sanders took aim at charter schools on Saturday… In a 10-point plan, Mr. Sanders…said that, if elected, he would…forbid…federal spending on new charter schools as well as…ban…for-profit charter schools — which account for a small proportion of existing charters. “The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color,” Mr. Sanders wrote… Mr. Sanders of Vermont would also require that charter schools be subject to the same oversight as public schools… Parts of the plan focused on educators, declaring Mr. Sanders’s support for a $60,000 baseline for teachers’ starting salaries as well as unionization efforts by charter schoolteachers.

By the way, I’m not a big fan of charter schools. It would be far better to have true school choice and allow parents to pick high-performing private schools.

But charter schools are definitely a better option if the only other choice is a failing government school. Especially since pouring more money into a broken system doesn’t work. Regardless of whether it’s a Democrat plan to waste money or a Republican plan to waste money.

This assumes, however, that the goal is to help children get a good education so they have a better chance for a good life.

That’s not what motivates Bernie Sanders. Like many Democrats, his main goal is to appease the teacher unions. And that means protecting and preserving the privileges and perks of union members and the government’s education monopoly.

Disgusting.

P.S. It’s even more nauseating that the NAACP has betrayed the interests of black people by rejecting school choice (I much prefer the views of Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell).

P.P.S. Just like it’s disgusting that Obama’s Secretary of Education chose private schools for his kids (as did Obama) while fighting against school choice for poor families.

P.P.S. On an uplifting note, Fran Tarkenton, the former Georgia Bulldog (he also played a bit in the NFL) used a sports analogy to explain the benefits of school choice.

P.P.P.S. It’s also uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as Canada, SwedenChile, and the Netherlands. And India doesn’t have school choice, but it’s a remarkable example of how private schools are the only good option for poor families that want upward mobility.

P.P.P.P.S. The Washington Post provides an example of honest and decent leftism, having editorialized in favor of poor children over teacher unions.

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In June 2017, I shared an image and made the bold claim that it told us everything we needed to know about government.

In July 2017, I shared a story and similarly asserted that it told us everything we needed to know about government.

In that grand tradition of rhetorical exaggeration, here’s a court case that tells us everything we need to know about government.

…a lawsuit arguing that Detroit students were being denied an education had been dismissed. …With the help of a public interest law firm, a handful of Detroit students charged in federal court that educational officials in Michigan — including Gov. Rick Snyder — denied them access to an education of any quality. …Student cannot be expected to learn when they are simply “warehoused for seven hours a day” in “an unsafe, degrading, and chaotic environment” that is a school “in name only.” …almost 99 percent of the students are unable to achieve proficiency in state-mandated subjects. Last year, the state moved for dismissal, arguing that the 14th Amendment contains no reference to literacy. …U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III agreed with the state. Literacy is important, the judge noted. But students enjoy no right to access to being taught literacy. All the state has to do is make sure schools run. If they are unable to educate their students, that’s a shame, but court rulings have not established that “access to literacy” is “a fundamental right.”

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe the judge made the right decision. Indeed, I suspect it probably was the right outcome since a decision in favor of the suit may have resulted in some sort of judicial mandate to squander more money on failed government schools. And we have lots of evidence that additional funding would mean throwing good money after bad.

But I still feel great sympathy for the students and their parents. They are stuck with rotten schools that cost a lot of money.

They have been betrayed by government incompetence. Both Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have explained how the system is rigged to benefit teacher unions rather than kids.

And even though most of the victimized children are minorities, the NAACP sides with the unions. Shame. The failed government school monopoly serves the interests of insiders, not students.

The only solution is school choice, as explained in this video.

P.S. Needless to say, the federal government shouldn’t play a role. Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind plan didn’t work, and neither did Obama’s Common Core boondoggle. The best thing that could happen in Washington would be the abolition of the Department of Education.

P.P.S. There’s a lot we could learn about school choice and private schooling from SwedenChile, India, Canada, and the Netherlands.

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Canada is a surprisingly pro-market country, with relatively sensible policies involving spending restraint, welfare reform, corporate tax reform, bank bailoutsregulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of saving, and privatization of air traffic control.

And we should add education policy to the mix.

There are four comparatively admirable features of Canadian schooling. First, as explained by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, the central government has no role.

…the Canadian educational system is much more decentralized than in the United States. One of the starkest illustrations of the different models at work between the two countries, is the fact that Canada has no federal role, no federal ministry or department, and no federal cabinet position for K-12 education at all. …in Canada, this vital aspect of society is under the exclusive control and authority of the provinces. Furthermore, in many provinces the delivery responsibilities are decentralized to local and regional boards of education.

Too bad we can’t say the same in the United States.

Second, Canadian taxpayers don’t spend as much money.

Adjusting for differences in currencies, in 2010 the United States (public and private) spent $11,826 per student on K-12 education. In contrast, the comparable figure for Canada was only $9,774… the United States spent about one-fifth (21%) more per student in 2010 for primary and secondary education, and…that difference arises from the higher level of government spending.

The sad news is that the United States has the ignoble distinction of having the highest level of per-student spending. Yet we certainly don’t get better results.

Especially compared to Canadians, which is the third admirable feature north of the border.

…on most international tests, Canada performs at least as well as, and often much better than, the United States. For example, the OECD administers the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which in 2006 gave U.S. students a science score of 489, compared to Canada’s 534 and the OECD average of 500.

So why is Canada getting better results with less money?

There are probably several answers, but one reason is a Canadian version of school vouchers, which is the fourth positive attribute of the Canadian education system.

Five provinces in Canada make provision for funding qualifying independent schools. These are Quebec and the four western provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. …Funding percentages vary across the five funding provinces. None offer funding toward the purchase or construction of capital assets. Funding is generally calculated as a percentage of the amount given to the local school district for the operational (recurrent) expenses of educating a student. Funding is generally paid directly to the independent school on a per-student basis.

The money follows the students, which means parents in the more enlightened provinces have a real choice.

Interestingly, even researchers from the Canadian government confirm that kids in private schools receive superior education.

Private high school students score significantly higher than public high school students on reading, mathematics, and science assessments at age 15, and have higher levels of educational attainment by age 23. …In the reading test, private school students outperformed their public school counterparts by 0.081 log points, or about 8% (Table 5). The gaps were slightly larger in the mathematics and science tests. By age 23, 99% of private school students had graduated from high school, about 3 percentage points above the figure for public school students. The private school advantage was more evident in postsecondary outcomes (measured at age 23)—postsecondary attendance (11.6 percentage points), university attendance (17.8 percentage points), postsecondary graduation (16.2 percentage points), university graduation (13.9 percentage points), and graduate or professional studies (8.1 percentage points).

Private schools produced better results even after adjusting for the quality of students.

…private high school attendance was positively associated with postsecondary attendance and graduation outcomes. Specifically, postsecondary attendance and graduation outcomes were 5- to 9-percentage-points higher among private high school students. …It is well documented that private high school students generally outperform their public school counterparts in the academic arena.

Parents seems to recognize where they can get the best education for their kids. The Fraser Institute tracks enrollment patterns and an ever-increasing number of children are attending independent schools.

So what’s the bottom line? Simply that what we see in Canada augments evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands about the benefits of breaking up state-run education monopolies. And we can give India honorary membership in this club since so many parents have opted for private schooling even though there’s no choice program.

P.S. Canada used to have the world’s 5th-freest economy, but it has dropped to the 11th-freest. Still a relatively good score, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the country moving in the wrong direction.

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I wrote yesterday about the global evidence showing that more money does not improve the lackluster performance of government schools.

Those results are not surprising because we see the same thing in the United States. More money is good for the education bureaucracy, but it doesn’t lead to better student outcomes.

Now let’s focus on the solution to this problem. Simply stated, we need to break up the government education monopoly and unleash market forces.

Previous columns have looked at the success of school choice in SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

Now let’s look at India, another country where private education has experienced amazing growth. I’m actually in that country for some speeches on regulatory reform (specifically, how India can improve its Doing Business score) and I’ve taken advantage of this situation to learn about the amazing developments in education.

We’ll start with some excerpts from a remarkable story in the Hindustan Times.

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, student enrollment in government schools across 20 Indian states fell by 13 million, while private schools acquired 17.5 million new students, according to a new study that offers insights into India’s public-school education crisis. Average enrollment in government schools–where teachers are paid, on average, salaries that are four times those in China–declined from 122 to 108 students per school over five years, while it rose from 202 to 208 in private schools… Why are students opting out of India’s government schools, which educate the poorest and most vulnerable students until the age of 14 for free, and migrating to fee-charging private institutions in such large numbers? …private schools offer better value for money and better teaching than government schools.

Yet you won’t be surprised to learn that teachers in the government schools are lavishly compensated.

India’s government teachers earn more than…their counterparts in private schools… Teacher salaries in of teachers in Uttar Pradesh are four to five times India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 15 times the state’s, according to a 2013 analysis by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. This is much higher than the salaries paid to teachers in OECD countries and India’s neighbours.

Much of the data in that story was taken from a 2017 study published by a German think tank.

Here are some of the other findings from that report.

Official data show a steep growth of private schooling and a corresponding rapid shrinkage in the size of the government school sector in India, suggesting parental abandonment of government schools. …affordability is an important factor behind the migration towards and growth of private schools. The main reason for the very low fee levels in private schools is their lower teacher salaries, which the data show to be a small fraction of the salaries paid in government schools; this is possible because private schools pay the market-clearing wage…whereas government schools pay bureaucratically determined minimum-wages. Private schools’ substantially lower per-student-cost combined with their students’ modestly higher learning achievement levels, means that they are significantly more cost-effective than government schools.

The study is filled with extensive data.

But rather than quote long passages, here are two charts that caught my eye. First, we see better performance in private schools.

Given these impressive results, the logical response would be for India to scrap government schools and adopt a nationwide system of school choice.

But there’s a very powerful interest group standing in the way. As you can see from this second chart, government teachers are grossly overpaid and they will fight to the death to maintain the status quo.

Now let’s look at some of the findings from a report prepared by Ernst & Young on elementary and secondary education in India.

Once again, we see that parents are voting with their money to send their kids to private schools. Why? Because even though government schools are “free,” parents actually want their kids to get a good education.

…one of the most striking trends in Indian school education is the increase of private sector participation with an estimated 3 lakh private schools with 40% of the total student enrollment. Private enrollment in elementary schools is approximately 35% and over 50% at the secondary level. …private schools deliver higher quality education as gauged by educational outcomes such as performance on board exams and evidence from standardized assessments.

And here are some charts from the report, starting with a look at the share of kids in private schools.

And here’s some additional evidence that private schools generate better student outcomes.

What makes these results especially amazing is that the government has created all sorts of barriers to private schools.

I wrote about this in 2013, but the E&Y report quantifies how politicians and bureaucrats are trying to stifle competition.

Let’s take a look at some more research.

The Centre for Civil Society also has a must-read report on private education in India.

We’ll start with an excerpt that reinforces the fact that parents are voting with their scarce funds because they want a better future for their children.

Private fee charging schools are loved and loathed in equal measure in India: loved in the sense of being sought after by parents for their children’s education and often reviled by the press/ public/ authorities… The emptying of government schools…is largely the result of an exodus of students from government schools and migration toward private schools… The evidence suggests that most private schools in India can be considered ‘low fee’ in the precise sense that their fee is below the government’s… This evidence discredits the oft-repeated belief that much of private schooling in India is elite and exclusive.

Here’s data showing that the private schools cost less.

And here’s data showing that private schools deliver better results.

Finally, let’s look at a study by the World Bank that measures inputs and outputs to determine “value for money” (VFM).

PPE in MP government school system is Rs 9384 per annum and in private schools Rs 3700 per annum. Thus, government schools’ PPE is 2.5 times private schools’ PPE. However, the learning units are higher in private schools: 58% of private school students and 28% of government students of class 5 could read a class 2 level text in 2014-15. Thus government schools’ learning output is just about half that in private schools. Putting the output and expenditure items together, we find that the cost per unit of achievement is Rs 338 in government schools and Rs 63 in private schools, implying that private schools are 5.3 times as cost effective as public schools, or that government schools are one fifth as efficient in producing output as private schools. …When home background is strictly controlled for, the raw public-private learning gap greatly falls but is usually not eliminated. … if only 25% of the raw public-private achievement gap of MP is attributed to superior private school quality (e.g., lower teacher absence rates), then private schools are 3.25 more efficient than government schools, rather than 5.3 times. …In summary, there is very low VFM from government expenditure on education, in terms of producing the valued outcome of ‘learning’ among students. The private schooling sector gets significantly higher VFM.

And here are a couple of visuals from the report.

We’ll start with a look at enrollment patterns (a “lakh” = 100,000), further confirming that an ever-growing number of parents would rather pay for a private school than send their kids to a “free” government school.

And here’s some data starkly showing how government teachers are vastly overpaid.

All of which reinforces the “value for money” argument that the private schools get far more bang for the buck.

Let’s conclude with a video. One of the world’s experts on private education in the developing world is James Tooley and his interest was triggered by what he saw in India.

Here he discusses developments in India and other developing nations.

P.S. For those interested in more information about India, I wrote last year about how excessive government is stifling the nation’s economy. Indeed, the country is ranked a lowly #95 in the latest iteration of Economic Freedom of the World. This is very unfortunate because India should be a rich country. Indian-Americans, for instance, are the most successful immigrant group in America.

P.P.S. But it will be hard for Indians in India to achieve similar success since the government keeps imposing bad policies such as “demonetization.”

P.P.P.S. India is also home to the most perverse example of how handouts encourage bad behavior.

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I’ve written several times about how dumping more money into government schools is not a recipe for improved education.

Indeed, I would argue that this chart is the most powerful image I’ve ever seen. More and more money gets plowed into the system (even after adjusting for inflation!), but the only effect is that school systems hired more bureaucrats.

There hasn’t been any positive impact on student test scores.

It’s especially depressing when you compare the United States with other developed nations. We spend more than other countries, on a per-student basis, yet our test scores are below average.

Politicians periodically admit there is a problem, but their solutions – such as Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme and Obama’s common-core boondoggle – simply squander money and rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let’s examine whether this pattern is true in other nations. I already shared some research showing that big spending increases in Indonesia didn’t have a positive impact.

Now let’s look at multi-country analysis. We’ll start by looking at a study by a scholar from the World Bank and Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Cross national data show no association between the increases in human capital attributable to rising educational attainment of the labor force and the rate of growth of output per worker. This implies the association of educational capital growth with conventional measures of TFP is large, strongly statistically significant, and negative. …Three causes could explain why the impact of education varied widely across countries and fell short of what was hoped. First, the institutional/governance environment could have been sufficiently perverse that the educational capital accumulation lowered economic growth. Second, perhaps the marginal returns to education fell rapidly as the supply expanded while demand for educated labor was stagnant. Third, educational quality could have been so low that “years of schooling” have created no human capital.

Here’s some statistical analysis from Professor Garett Jones of George Mason University.

Between the 60’s and the 90’s every country in this sample boosted its average years of education–it was a golden age of alleged human capital investment.  Some nations boosted schooling more, some less. How did that turn out? …The trendline points down slightly, but for the time being let’s just call it a draw.  It’s a well-known fact that countries that started the 1960’s with high education levels grew faster…, but this graph is about something different.  This graph shows that countries that increased their education levels did not grow faster.

And here’s his graph.

This data clearly shows that dumping more money into education doesn’t work.

So perhaps the problem is the way the money is getting spent, not the amount.

That’s why the moral of the story is that we need to break up government school monopolies and harness the power of the market by giving parents and students genuine school choice. For what it’s worth, there’s strong evidence that choice produces good outcomes in the limited instances where it is allowed in the United States.

P.S. There’s also strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Needless to say, eliminating the Department of Education is part of the solution.

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