School Choice and Fairness

school-bus-1368136904lVvQuestions of “fairness” come up often in the debate over school choice.

Is it fair that some students attend quality public schools and get a great education while others are left in failing and dangerous schools?  Is it fair that one school district receives and spends $30,000 per student while another can only muster $6,500?  Is it fair that some families can afford to send their children to private schools while others must attend the school assigned to them by the government?

These are all part of the bigger issue of redistribution of wealth:  Is it fair for the government to take, by force, the property of one citizen and give it to another?

Americans almost universally agree that a good education system is necessary for our collective security and economic well-being, and we are all happy to contribute our fair share to that end.  To a point.

A while back I was discussing school funding with a friend, state representative Ryan Osmundson, who owns a cattle feed business in rural Montana.  I told him I was astonished that many rural school districts had budgets of $22,000 per student and up.  I facetiously asked if a local rancher with four kids went to the school office every fall and wrote a check for $88,000.

Of course they don’t.  And I doubt that very many parents think about where the money came from before it went to their football team, their books, their desks and their teachers.  Reality check:  if you didn’t write a check (or pay property tax) for your school’s average cost per student times the number of students you are sending to school, somebody else is paying your bill.  Is that fair?

But back to Osmundson.  “That’s not the half of it,” he said.  “The superintendent of my rural school district is after me all the time because I am home-schooling my six kids.  He says I am costing his district a lot of money by keeping six students off the school rolls.”

I blinked a couple of times, trying to absorb how not sending kids to school costs money.

Then Osmundson said, “I told the superintendent he should be thanking me.  The way I see it, I am saving the taxpayers $132,000 a year, and paying schools taxes to boot!”

My daughter is home schooling her twins while paying for schools they don’t use.  Fair?

Earlier this month I learned much about school choice at the Franklin Center’s “Amplify Choice” conference in Washington, DC.  Spending per student at a private high school we visited was about half that of the public schools, and yet the quality of education was vastly superior.  Spending and results are clearly not directly correlated.

We agree that it is in our best interest to educate all of our children to the highest standard that is practical, and there is really only one fair way to share the cost of that effort:  education funds must travel with the student to the competing school of his family’s choice.

Whether in the form of school vouchers, or tax credits, or scholarships, or one of the many other “backpack” funding plans, only when the money follows the student will our education system be fair.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
Treat me right!  Treat me right!
Open your eyes,
Maybe you’ll see the light.
Ooh-ooh, Treat me right!

Treat Me Right – Pat Benatar

4 thoughts on “School Choice and Fairness

  1. Both my children are in choice schools. My daughter attends Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. At this school, children from low income families get a great education and the students earn about 60% of tuition and costs by working 5 days a month in a corporate workplace. Another part of tuition is paid through a tax credit scholarship. My daughter is working at the Coca-Cola Company. The Cristo Rey model is ideal and performance results support it. Currently they operate over two dozen schools across the country.

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