Introducing Competition to Public Schools

As states are attempting to improve the quality of public education while facing tight budget constraints, school vouchers are gaining publicity as a means of improving education through increased competition while not requiring increased funding.

Voucher programs have been implemented in several cities across the country, generally improving achievement among students who are able to use them. As reported in USA Today:

Vouchers have improved the math and reading of inner-city children from Dayton, Ohio, to Charlotte, N.C., various studies show. The Washington vouchers improved the reading of girls and younger kids by about half a school year, though results for other groups were iffier. Yet opposition is so fierce that few voucher experiments survive past the seedling stage. Florida vouchers were blocked by a party-line vote in the state Supreme Court. In Utah, they were killed by a union-funded anti-voucher campaign.

While critics of voucher programs such as the National Education Association fear that they would reduce the funding and quality of public schools, those who support vouchers assert that by introducing competition into public education, teachers and administrators will have new incentives to improve the level of service without raising costs.

Economist Charles Tiebout elucidated that competition between communities to attract investment has led to greater variation and improved choices for consumers who each have different preferences.  Communities’ residents are able to sort themselves into the neighborhoods and cities that are best for them by voting with their feet.  The same freedom for parents and children to choose which school to attend might improve the quality of education available generally as well as increase the variety of schooling options available to each child.