Thursday, November 13, 2008

Educating the Children part III

The average cost per student to the government schools is often quoted as being somewhere in the range of $8,000 dollars per year. However, this figure only considers direct spending on student instruction, and fails to account for the associated costs of infrastructure, including future pension obligations and administrative costs. In some districts, once adjusted for these considerations, the cost per student is tripled. In D.C., the average cost per student is nearly $25,000.

By comparison, the average tuition cost of private schools is less than $5,000 per student. And already 11% of America's children are being educated in private institutions, even though their parents are already paying for them to get a “free” education from the government.

In fact, while the government schools are failing our children, private schools are succeeding. But that isn't the concern raised by most people. The concern you hear most often is that private schools are only for rich people. This however, is also patently false.

If you research the government school system in America, you will find reference after reference touting the benefits of universal “free” education. Think back to our discussion about the roads. The schools are not “free.” We can easily see that it costs as much as $25,000 dollars to educate a student in some government schools, where do you think that money's coming from? It's coming from the taxpayers. It is privately held asset, seized through force, and directed towards a service many people will never use.

I've already pointed out the cost difference in educating children in government versus private schools. The reality is that private schools spend far less to educate students than do government schools. Part of the reason people are afraid they can't afford to privately educate their children is because of the burden put on them by government.

In order to afford the ridiculously inflated cost per student in the government school system, the government must spread that cost across the entire taxpaying base, not just those who have children currently attending the schools. That means that many people who don't use the schools are paying for them anyway, and in order to educate your children privately, you must in effect pay twice for their schooling, once to the government, and once to the private school.

Often people argue in favor of taxation by pointing out that you get something in return. But my parents pay taxes to fund the government school system and their children are not in it. I pay taxes to fund the government school system and I have no children. You may argue that we all benefit from a well educated youth, and I would agree, but we've already seen that the product of the government school system could hardly be considered well educated.

Think of it this way. If I mug you on the street, but in return I give you a poorly crafted hammer, does that justify my crime? Is it ok to steal as long as you give something in return, even if that item is of poor quality, was never asked for, and may never be used? The answer has to be no. Yet that kind of logic is used to support taxation to pay for government schooling.

In reality, if you eliminated taxation and the government school system, there would still be a need for education. There always has been, and as you have seen, that need has historically been fulfilled in the absence of government intervention. The concern about cost exists in part because families are having to pay twice for private education, and in part because there is no perceived need for low cost private schooling for low income families. After all, they can attend the “free” government schools.

But where there is a need for low cost private schools it is being filled. In economically depressed parts of the country, there are still private schools, and they charge some of the lowest tuition rates in the country as a reflection of the local economy. If the government school system was abolished, there would be an immediate rush to fill that void with a wide range of schools offering different services at different prices.

Look at it this way, not everyone eats at Red Lobster. Not everyone eats at The Four Seasons. Not everyone eats at McDonald's. But everyone eats. Entrepreneurs have filled every market niche in food service, because there is a need. And they have established a menu of prices and services to fit every economic level.

It would be the same in education. Private schools cost less than you think. There wouldn't only be schools for the rich, because the poor have money to spend as well, and someone would find a way to offer a service to them, at a lower cost, and yes, possibly a lower level of service, which they could afford.

Before you argue that that means only the rich would get the good education, I must remind you of a few things. Right now, the government school systems use force to fund a poorly performing system which graduates one in five functionally illiterate pupils. In the absence of government, there would be far less poverty than there is now, resulting in far more people being able to attend more expensive private schools. The cost to the average consumer, to attend a good private school now, is less than $5000 per year. In the absence of the state, with valuable currency and no taxation, in a system where schools truly had to compete and parents weren't paying twice for their children's education, $5000 would be easily affordable.

And there would be schools which charged far less than that. All those students who are currently attending the “free” public school system would still need an education. Schools would rise up overnight rushing to fill the need of the consumers. This always happens. Remember when everyone got excited about low carb diets, and suddenly every restaurant was offering burgers wrapped in lettuce and every grocery store had lean chicken and low carb frozen entrees? When the market perceives a need, it fills it. In a variety of ways, at a variety of costs, it finds a way to get every consumer it can to buy every product they can. That's how the market works. It works in food service. It works in transportation. It works in communication. It works in education.

If we're smart enough to let it.

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