Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rethinking Public Education

I have always been a supporter of a voucher system to improve the performance of education for those afflicted with the ills of the inner city school system. Now, a fairly wealthy county in Colorado provides another compelling reason for providing vouchers to parents to spend on educating their youth, saving money. From the WSJ:
Nationally, most voucher programs are run by states. Qualified students receive a voucher that is accepted as full payment at local private schools.

Douglas County does it differently, acting as middleman between state and student—and taking a cut. The state sends the district $6,100 per pupil; the district forwards 75% to each voucher recipient and keeps the rest. Even after administrative costs, the district expects to make what amounts to a profit of $400,000 this year on the 500 students in its pilot program.

Of course, there are complaints from the usual suspects. Predictably the ACLU is arguing against the horror of allowing parents to use the money to pay for religious schools. Interestingly, parents who have kept their kids in public schools are upset.

Opponents, however, fear kids in traditional public schools will suffer. If a high school loses 10 freshmen to vouchers, for instance, it loses more than $50,000. In response, the principal may lay off a math teacher and distribute his students among other instructors, raising class size. The district says it will help the hardest-hit schools, but acknowledges some class sizes may increase.

That enrages parent Cindy Barnard, who says it isn't fair that her son's education in public schools may be diminished so her neighbors can use tax dollars to pay private-school tuition.

What I don't understand is why she should complain, because there will be money left over for her kids education under this plan, as the school system is already making an extra $400K this year.

This could result in huge savings. Let's look at the situation in California. According to the state of California's data, there is a total of approximately $50 billion spent on K-12 education. (I am approximating, because the exact total seems a little squishy depending on the source.) This results in per pupil spending of $8452 per year. A voucher to parents of about $6300 would save the state $2100 per pupil. If only one million of the approximately 5.5 to 6 million students, the state could save $2.1 billion dollars. The more parents take advantage of the program, the more the state saves. At the state level these kinds of savings shouldn't be ignored. It might have the additional impetus of encouraging a mass exodus from failing public schools. I also note that in the review of literature for this article that only 61% of spending in California's schools goes to classroom education. That means the schools have an overhead rate of 63%. It seems obvious that parents could get a more value from 75 cents of every education dollar than they get from the public system.

Cost savings and better education? A massive voucher program for every child in school seems like an easy way to save.

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