On school choice, the rest of the world is moving in the right direction, while Labour proposes the opposite. But the Government even funds private schools for poor children in Africa. So why not here?
In his blog, Dan Mitchell writes approvingly of school choice developments in U.S. states. It’s based on this report, the American Legal Exchange Council’s (ALEC) ‘Index of State Education Freedom’, which starts:
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a complete reimagining of how and where students are taught around the country. More importantly, the pandemic sparked a national realisation that our current ‘one-size-fits-all’ system of public education simply does not work for too many students. While there are plenty of students who perform at their highest level in their local public schools, there are also many who would perform better in an alternate educational environment. Parents are best positioned to know where and how their children learn best, so we must empower them with as many educational choices as possible
Amen. Teaching (unlike, say, brain surgery and cancer care) isn’t rocket science. We’ve all been to school and can remember what makes for a good teacher, a good classroom, a good school. At work, we’ve learned, developed, watched others coach and lead, and coached and led others. This is not to say we could all step into a primary school class tomorrow and start teaching them to read, or to multiply. But we could pretty quickly identify whether the teacher is any good and whether the children are engaged.
Where choice exists, parents have the incentive to learn how to identify good schools. School choice empowers parents to drive up standards – not only in their ‘preferred’ schools, but across the board.
So why shouldn’t we have choice?
Who has school choice?
So here’s the (growing) list of U.S. states – 18 in all – with a direct school choice programme in the form of “education scholarship account programmes”, where dollars follow students’ parents’ choices: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina and Utah – with Texas reportedly on the way!
For an international perspective, there’s also school choice in Canada, Chile, the Netherlands and Sweden.
As I wrote here, Denmark, France and Germany have a variety of private sector provisions that support school choice within state-funded provision – like a mix of grammar schools and academies.
We love school choice in poor countries
Another excellent read is The Beautiful Tree, where James Tooley explores private education in the slums of Nigeria, China, Ghana, Kenya and India – finding that fee-charging, profit-seeking, low-cost private schools are often strongly preferred by poor people, and deliver better outcomes, compared to
free state- or NGO-funded alternatives. Based on Tooley’s evidence, the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) started to spend British taxpayers’ money on private providers, using vouchers, so that parents in poorer countries could have school choice. How sensible.
That’s right: British taxpayers’ money spent on school choice in the – boo hiss – profit-seeking private sector abroad, but not at home.
Labour’s VAT plan means less choice
My aim in my blog is to call for good schools, as many good schools as possible. Taxing independent education harms good schools. It stands to reduce choice in three ways:
- Fewer parents will be able to afford private education; they will be forced into state provision which certainly won’t offer much, if any choice. At best, there won’t be places in over-subscribed ‘good’ state schools. At worst places may not be locally available at all, or manageable without significant change to parents’ domestic and professional circumstances.
- If and when some private schools close, even parents willing and able to absorb the VAT cost will lose the choice to do so as the school will no longer exist; some of those parents will also be forced into state provision.
- Parents currently unable or unwilling to pay fees will face greater future competition for their ‘preferred’ places at
freetaxpayer-funded grammar schools, religious schools, academies, free schools and top catchment areas; a greater proportion will in turn be disappointed. Those places will become even more financially exclusive (via pricey catchment areas) than they already are.
Which countries’ example to follow?
So we could follow the example of 18 U.S. states and Canada, Chile, the Netherlands and Sweden, and even Denmark, France and Germany. We could offer more British children what we’ve paid for some African children to enjoy.
Or we could follow Labour in wanting to tax education and reduce school choice.
Mr. Chips is a pseudonym for an employee of a private school. This article first appeared on his Substack page.