Education in a democracy

We interrupt this series of blog posts to address education in a democracy, especially in America where the public education system is deplorable — beyond reform and beyond revival — so it’s ready for replacement. Another reason for replacement is the right of the people to control their own education, rather than the state and the public sector unions. In order to give some flesh to how this could actually happen, let me sketch out a proposal.

There is considerable investment in state-controlled infrastructure for education; this should not be simply dismantled or sold. Let the state continue to own and control its operation — a contractor may be better than state employees, but that is a secondary matter. Let the classrooms be leased to independent (aka private) schools. The state then would control facility maintenance and operation of the common areas and common activities such as school lunch programs and extracurricular activities (e.g., team sports).

There is always the objection that all the independent schools in an area will not be acceptable to all the students (and their parents) or vice versa (the schools will have requirements or limitations so they don’t accept all the students. In that case — and in that case only — the state might control the schooling. For example, special needs children who require expensive assistance could be schooled by the state — but it would be better if the state provided financial assistance for independent schools to include special needs students. The other example is children who are not wanted by independent schools because they cause discipline problems. Or there are no schools acceptable to students because of their religion. Again, the state could be the educator of last resort in such cases.

In order to pay for this kind of education system, the parents should be given tax credits, vouchers, or state assistance. That way, the parents have the lead in selecting which school their children will attend, which assumes that the parents are the best ones to make that decision — they have the best interests of their children in mind. That is a democratic assumption, that the people are to be trusted with decisions that directly affect them.

The state can and should support education but the state need not operate school systems, not only because the state isn’t particularly suited to that but because parents are particularly suited to know what’s best for their children and because competition between independent schools is the best way to obtain excellence in education.