, , , , , , , ,

Most people would agree that the educational system of the US is in need of serious work. Students are unprepared either for the work place or for college. Science and math education are in need of drastic improvement. Under performing schools are told to improve yet they don’t and nothing more happens. Something needs done about education in the US, we need a school voucher system.

There are several reasons we should move to a voucher system. First off the competition can help promote better education outcomes and greater innovation in education. Schools will have a great freedom to try new means of improving education without state and federal regulations guiding dictating the methods to be used. So they can try to fix our educational system in the manner that seems best to them. While at the same time the competition allows parents to pick and choose the best school to fit their children. That way parents have a greater choice over school since they can select which of many schools they send their children thus allowing them to tailor their children’s education to fit their values as a parent.

Next the ideas and methods developed from competition of schools will be adopted by other schools. That is schools which perform extremely well will be emulated by other schools trying to improve their performance. While schools which perform poorly will not be emulated.

Also vouchers will hold schools more accountable than they are currently. Parents will have the choice of whether or not to attend a schools. So if a school is performing poorly then parents don’t have to send their children there the next year. They can find another option. When children are assign to school regardless of school performance and parents don’t have any other options then the school has little incentive to improve. The district may tell them to improve, but they will still have about as many students next year as last year which means they will have about the same funding. The school doesn’t deal with any feel any consequences of poor performance, rather it is the children that suffer from it. So they school doesn’t have to really worry about improving performance.

Now the two problems with vouchers have to do with the allocation of funding. First in our current system in many places school funding is tied to property tax. That creates massive disparities between schools in rich and poor neighborhood. Back in Phoenix (my home town), I use to work at a school for developmentally disabled children that the local districts couldn’t handle. We got a child one day from a North Scottsdale school which is an affluent suburb of Phoenix. Well the school didn’t have an extra bus to send the child to us. So they hired a limo company to take him back and forth until they could buy a van and hire somebody to drive it. This kid was showing up in a limo for several weeks. It was ridiculous. How can they justify spending that kind of money? They clearly had more dollars than sense. They had so much extra because they got more from property taxes all the while other students barely have the basics.

For this reason I think that education funding needs to be separated from property taxes. All children deserve to be invested in equally. Affluent children do not need to have greater public funding than poor children. Yet at the same time we can’t ignore the simple fact that the cost of operating a schools does depend in some ways on the area it is located. The overhead for school property is going to be more expensive in urban areas than rural and the overhead for schools within urban areas will vary depending on the neighborhoods. Though at the same time it should not be highly connected to the neighborhood so as not to create vast disparities in the education between the poor and rich. That is way the value of the voucher should depend in part on the location of the individual but only in part. It should have a base value that is adjusted based on the cost of living in the area surrounding the individual. The area should be sufficiently large so that poor neighborhood include rich ones in their cost of living and rich neighborhoods include poor. It could be something like the cost of living for the 50 mile area surrounding the individual compared to the cost of living for the state as a whole. That factor would be applied to the base value which would be the average per student cost of education for the state. So say the average cost per student in your state is $7,000 and your area cost of living is 120% of the average statewide cost of living then your voucher would be worth $19,000 * 1.2 = $12,000. The whole point to this is to help combat the disparities in education based on family socioeconomic status.

The next issue is the question of how much tuition will cost. If everybody got a school voucher worth $10,000 in tuition, you would quickly find that most schools happen to cost $10,000 in tuition or more. No school would opt to charge less than the voucher is worth. But that would encourage waste. Also that would mitigate some of the pressures of competition since there would be no pressure on the price of education only on the results of education. In order to deal with this vouchers need to be connect to individual accounts. Any unspent money from your voucher rolls over to the next year. If any is left unspent after graduation then it can be used to attend college. So if your voucher is worth $10,000 and you pick a school that only charges $8,000 tuition then you would have $2,000 rollover in your account for next year. Then next year you would have a $12,000 voucher. That gives parents and schools a reason to focus both on educational outcomes but also the cost of education. Then parents could decide how best to spend their child’s education money, maybe they will send them somewhere that is good but not the best for grade school so that they can afford the top end high school. Maybe they will find a good value for their dollar and save extra for college. Or maybe they will put some of their own money on top of the voucher and send them somewhere more expensive every year. The parents will have a choice over it. At the same time it creates competition between schools on price. They will have to offer a reasonable price for the education so as to entice parent into sending their children to that school.

This plan will provide competition among schools for both educational performance and cost of tuition. It will allow greater freedom to innovate while allowing schools to emulate top performers. Finally it will put parents back in the driver’s seat of education and allow them to make meaningful choices about their children’s future.