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Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Internet Is Maximizing Educational Choice

The Internet is providing a feasible alternative for those looking to escape the public schools.

Everyone knows America’s public school system is a mess. The government has a monopoly on education created by compulsory attendance laws and confiscatory taxation. In other words, government has used coercion to establish a uniform system that suppresses competition. Such a monopoly of course breeds inefficiency and ineffectiveness. And that each state controls the training of its teachers and the content of the curriculum only further serves the problem.

School Choice Reforms

While much damage has already been done by the public school system since its inception in the mid-1800s, there is still hope for the future. Many Americans are fed up with the current system and are looking for alternatives. They realize the government system restricts freedom and impedes competition, and they are therefore seeking reforms that offer more “choice” in education. The most popular school choice reforms today are: (1) charter schools; (2) school vouchers; and (3) tax credits.

Many Americans are fed up with the current system and are looking for alternatives.Charter schools are government-funded schools that are independent of the state system. Since they have fewer regulations, they are thought to introduce greater competition between schools. Charter schools are still public schools, albeit a somewhat decentralized version. They are not “private” schools, as their critics so often claim (usually teachers unions). While charter schools certainly provide more choice than traditional public schools, they still involve tax money and are thus government-controlled. Charter schools do not charge tuition and therefore lack a consumer-feedback mechanism. This means they avoid normal market forces that increase quality, decrease cost, and meet consumer demands.  

School vouchers, another popular reform effort, allow parents to apply their tax money to private schools. Vouchers therefore expand school choice further than that of charter schools. However, instead of reducing government involvement in education, vouchers actually expand government spending to cover private schools. More government spending requires increased taxation and/or monetary inflation. Furthermore, tax money means government control. While state regulations may not be imposed initially upon private schools receiving voucher money, they certainly will be down the road. There is always a string attached to tax money, and the state will slowly creep its way into regulating curricula and teacher requirements. Private schools should be seeking to free themselves of government control, not enslave themselves.  

A proposed alternative to school vouchers is the education tax credit. This would provide a state or federal tax credit for out-of-pocket educational expenses, such as private school tuition. (A tax credit involves a reduction in taxes owed, whereas the alternative tax deduction is only a reduction in taxable income.) Another variation provides a tax credit to individuals or corporations that contribute to nonprofit scholarships. It is suggested that tax credits would prevent tax money from going directly to private schools (unlike vouchers) and therefore limit government regulation. However, tax credits do not prevent state regulation, as the government must still decide who is eligible for the tax credit. Schools and families have to meet requirements for such credits, thus giving the government even more control over education. Furthermore, tax credits, like vouchers, result in less tax revenue for the government schools. Unless the government in turn cuts spending (which it tends to have trouble doing), it will offset this by increasing taxes elsewhere.

None of the school choice reforms deal with the root problem of government schools—which is that government is involved in education in the first place. Charter schools are still government schools, while school vouchers and tax credits actually further strengthen the state’s grip on education by extending control over private education. Moreover, both vouchers and tax credits involve a tacit endorsement of government coercion, as their advocates seek to work within the current tax system that grossly violates our property rights. Instead of giving tacit approval of the system by asking for individual tax breaks, we should condemn the system by demanding across-the-board tax cuts. This would leave everyone more money of their own to spend on education without the legal entanglements involved with vouchers and tax credits.

The Internet and True Educational Freedom

The point is that charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits do not go far enough. What families really need is freedom from government in education. Education reformers should settle for nothing short of a free-market system, as only the free market can provide the competition that creates high-quality and affordable education with a variety of choices to suit each family’s needs. This cannot happen until the state monopoly is broken. When this happens, everyone will pay lower taxes and have more money to spend on education. Every family will be forced to pay for their own education, which will create a vibrant and highly competitive market. Schools of all types will arise—religious schools, college prep schools, special needs schools, and more. The schools will differ in perspective, cost, and quality. And this will benefit everyone.

Can the state school monopoly be broken? Yes.Can the state school monopoly be broken? Yes, but it will require that enough people actually leave the public schools to bring down the system. While the public schools are certainly doing things that contribute to a mass exodus, they still have much going for them. Public schools have the allegiance of many citizens stemming from tradition, they have political allies, and they have tax money. Overcoming these barriers will require an alternative educational option that is far superior to the public schools.

Such an alternative appears to have arisen in online education. The Internet is making excellent educational content available for a low cost, making it particularly suitable for homeschooling and homeschool groups. Homeschooling has seen a near 62% increase in a decade, and the growing market demand for homeschool curricula is being met with the development of new online educational content every year. Websites like Khan Academy offer affordable education through online videos and forums. And they provide world-class teachers that students would not have access to in a traditional setting.

In other words, the Internet is revolutionizing education. It is maximizing educational “choice” through the free market in a way that no public school ever could. Parents are able to choose from a variety of curricula to meet the needs of their children. They can choose teachers and courses that align with their political and religious views, and they can select the teaching style they believe best helps their child to learn. This kind of educational choice is not available even in the best private schools.

Homeschooling is a welcome trend that removes education from the control of the state and returns it to its proper sphere, that of the family. It is not a new practice but rather a return to America’s traditional model of education prior to the mid-1800s (outside of New England). Homeschooling has the significant advantage of allowing parents to tailor the education of their children to their unique needs and interests. The Internet is really only a tool to aid this task. But it is a revolutionary tool. And it is providing a high-quality and financially feasible alternative for those looking to escape the public schools.