In Ohio, article misses major point in school choice argument

February 28, 2023

By Tim Worstall

School choice rests on the idea that we want education dollars to be spent educating children as is best for the child in the view of that child’s parents.

We all pay our taxes into the school system but children do belong to paretns and so that’s who should be deciding – parents.

There are all too many within the school system itself who don’t grasp this. Such as this objection from Ohio:

Benjamin Helton is a former public schoolteacher and currently assistant professor of music education at Case Western Reserve University. He teaches pre- and in-service music teachers and conducts research on arts education policy.

He’s invested in the current system, which is probably what leads him to this error:

This money will come from the same general fund as those for public school students. So, if a student leaves public schools and uses one of these vouchers to pay for a private school, those funds are sapped from public resources.

There are three objections to this view. The first is that the student has also left the public system so the costs of educating the student have left the public system. To argue otherwise is like saying that Ford still needs to get paid when they’ve not had to make the car that someone has just bought from GM. The public school system won’t have the cost of educating the child therefore the public school system doesn’t need the funds to educate the child. 

The second error is that no money at all has gone missing from the education system. There’s a conflation here that is entirely wrong. This is the idea that public schools, or the “public education system,” are something different and special outside the system of educating the public. They’re not. Public schools are just one way of educating children. So are charter schools, magnets, private schools and homeschooling – all just different ways of educating children. Education tax dollars are to be used to educate children. There’s nothing special or unique here about public schools – they’re just a tool to achieve education. So moving part of the tax dollar budget from one form of education to another doesn’t change the education budget at all.

The mistake is to think of public schools as the only system worthy of education dollars when what we want education dollars to be spent upon is educating the public. Exactly the same public resources are being used to provide exactly the same public outcome – the education of the children.

 The third error is more general. Which is the insistence that it has to be the system that is funded. It’s a derivative of the above complaint. The public school system loses resources if vouchers are used. Well, OK, but so what? To argue that this is a bad idea requires thinking of this set of schools as worthy of tax dollars and this other set of schools here as unworthy. But who gets to decide this worthiness? The parents, of course, which is why school choice in the first place.

Really, all that school choice is is the insistence that the people who pay the tax dollars to fund education should be the people who decide where their children go to have education tax dollars spent upon them. Rather than, say, some mystical bureaucracy called “the school district.”


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