Privatize All Education!

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I came across an article calling for private schools to be made illegal, citing investor Warren Buffet in support of such a policy. The argument is that private schools offer an unfair advantage to the rich, and banning them would improve public schools because the rich would be required to send their kids there. 

This might be one of the most despotic and tyrannical ideas I have ever heard.

Thankfully, this awful suggestion will never happen in America, and that is because lawmakers would never agree to it. (The Supreme Court actually struck down an Oregon law banning private school in 1925, Pierce v Society of Sisters.) Many politicians actually send their kids to private schools. In fact, around 40% of Congress has sent a child to a private school. President Obama sends his daughters to a private school. Even former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sends his kids to a private school.

That’s right, the people who make laws regulating public schools do not even send their own kids there.

They must know something.

They also have the money to afford private school tuition. But they still know something. What do they know? Politicians know that private school, when done right, is far superior to public school.

This is not secret knowledge. We all know the best elementary schools and high schools in the U.S. are private. The problem is that most of us don’t have the money to send our kids there. (They can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per year.) So we resort to talking about how to improve the public schools.

Privatize It!

What I’m trying to say here is that forcing kids to go to public school is the exact opposite of what we should do. The public school system is clearly broken. Instead of trying to fix it by fascist compulsion, we should just get rid of the entire thing. That’s right—privatize the entire educational system. (And just to be clear, I am not talking about charter schools. Charter schools are tax-funded and therefore not really private.)[1]

Instead of making private schools illegal, we should make public schools illegal.

Banning private schools would infringe upon people’s freedoms. But abolishing public schools would not. Without public schools, people would actually have more freedom than under the current system.

Under the current system, the government confiscates your hard-earned money to fund their state schools, regardless of whether you send children there or not. But that’s money you earned. You should be able to spend it how you like. You should be able to choose what kind of school your children attend—whether it be homeschool, a religious school, or another alternative. The government should not require you to pay for a particular school that you do not want to use. That is despotism. 

"But where would all the poor kids go? They cannot afford private school! Do you not want them to get an education?"

I hate to break it to you, but poor kids are not getting an education under the current system. Just look at the statistics. Inner city public schools are terrible. Not only do they have low graduation rates, but they also pass students right through the system. (They somehow are lowering an already low bar . . . ) There are kids graduating from inner city high schools who can barely read. A recent study revealed that 47% of Detroit’s population is “functionally illiterate”—half of which graduated from a public high school. 

And those who know the system best—inner city public school teachers—know what a disaster the system is. Statistics suggest that 30% to 40% of teachers in inner cities like New York and Philadelphia actually send their kids to private schools. The teachers know things are so bad that they are unwilling to send their own kids there. 

Contrary to all the whining from the media, the problem is not money. The state keeps throwing money at inner city schools, with many of the large cities spending almost $20,000 per student. And it’s not helping. The reason is that loads of money cannot overcome the real problems of inner city schools—negligent parents, bad influence of other kids, the godless worldview being taught in the classroom, etc.

So this argument that public schools are necessary for educating the poor just does not work. The poor are not getting much of an education under the current system. It’s hard to see how things could get any worse under a privatized system. And as we will see, privatization would be much better for the poor. 

More Money for Everyone

Think about the possibilities of a completely privatized system. Everyone, including poor people, would have a lot more money in their pocket to pay for private school. Under the current system, 38% of state taxes go to fund public schools (25% to k–12 and 13% to universities). That’s just state sales and income tax. Then factor in local property taxes (a good portion of which goes to public schools, though this varies) and federal income tax (about 3% goes to education). The abolishment of public education would mean significantly lower taxes, particularly at the state and local levels.

Lower taxes means everyone has more money to spend on private education. It would give Americans their money back to spend directly on education, not indirectly through state reallocation. Indirect spending is inefficient. 

If all schools were private, they would be competing for business. They would be seeking to attract customers with the best product for the lowest price (that’s right, students are customers and education is a product). This runs completely counter to how the current public schools run. The state-monopolized school system removes the free market competition that naturally drives sellers to offer the best product for the lowest prices.[2]

Yet even under the current government monopoly, private schools are still far more efficient than public schools. Private schools spend approximately $4,500 less per student than public schools ($8,500 compared to $13,000) on average. That’s 53% less! Much of this is due to the public schools’ waste on excessive administration. (They have close to one administrator for every teacher.) As private businesses, private schools must run efficiently. They cannot hire unnecessary staff. And they cannot run up a $3.5 billion debt like the Detroit public schools have—and then try to have the rest of the state bail them out . . .

Better Education for All

It must be admitted that the poor would still be at a disadvantage in a privatized school system. However, they would have far better educational options compared to the current system. The availability of more private schools would mean the poor actually have an opportunity to receive a good education rather than being financially committed to the nearest public school (by compulsion, of course).

With lower property, income, and sales taxes, everyone would have more money to pay for private tuition. (Or for those who homeschool, they will just have more money.) Obviously, some people would still have trouble paying for education. However, the lower taxes of a private system would mean the wealthy and middle class have more money to donate to private schools. This would mean more scholarships for private schools to help poorer families. (And yes, this kind of aid happens even in our current monopolized system. It would happen even more under a completely privatized system.)

Private education would also have the benefit of people having a stake in their child’s schooling. People tend to value services less when they don’t pay for them. Sadly, many parents today view public schools as a free babysitting service. They would not treat schools this way if they were voluntarily spending their hard-earned dollars on them.

Education is not a right. It is a privilege. And maybe if we treated it as such, people would take it more seriously. 

Unfortunately, our society has become so accustomed to public education that most people cannot even comprehend a privatized system. It sounds too radical. So they keep putting band-aids on the wound, refusing the doctor’s offer to perform life-saving surgery.  


[1] Those who advocate charter schools understand the benefits of educational freedom, both for those running the school and for parents choosing the school their children attend. However, charter schools still face some of the same problems as traditional public schools. First, charter schools still have some limitations on curriculum and teacher requirements. And second, charter schools do not take direct pay from customers. This reduces the stake the parents have in sending their child to the school, and it reduces the free-market incentives for the school to be as efficient and excellent as possible. 

[2] There are many liberty-minded people today who advocate a voucher system, where people can take their tax voucher to whatever school they choose, including private schools. But like charter schools, vouchers involve the dangers that come from taking tax money, as there is always a string attached. The state will say there is no string, but give it enough time and they will be laying down laws for the private schools who receive vouchers. This system should therefore be avoided.