Today, public or nonprofit organizations pay for and manage practically all aspects of formal education. Even in nations that are primarily free businesses in structure and ideology, this situation has progressively grown and is now taken for granted to the point that little explicit emphasis is any longer paid to the grounds for the particular treatment of education. As a consequence, the governmental authority has been expanded without restriction.
Governmental involvement in education can be justified on two different bases. The first is the existence of significant “neighborhood effects,” or situations in which one person’s action results in significant costs for others that cannot be made up for or significant benefits for others that cannot be made up for. These situations prevent individuals from exchanging goods and services voluntarily. The paternalistic concern for kids and other irresponsible people is the second. Neighborhood influences and paternalism have extremely distinct effects on specialized occupational education and general education for citizenship. In these two sectors, the justifications for state engagement are substantially different and call for very different kinds of responses.
One more preliminary observation: it’s critical to differentiate between “schooling” and “education,” since not all education is schooling. Education should be the main topic of discussion. Government involvement is largely restricted to education.
General Education for Citizenship Without a basic level of literacy and understanding on the part of the majority of people and popular acceptance of some shared set of values, a stable and democratic society is impossible. Education may help with both. As a result, other members of society also benefit from a kid’s education in addition to the youngster and his parents. Your well-being is enhanced by my child’s education, which fosters a peaceful, democratic society. It is impractical to charge for the services provided since it is impossible to identify the specific people (or families) who benefitted. There is a large “neighborhood impact” as a result.
What form of governmental response does this specific neighborhood impact warrant? The most apparent is to mandate that every kid complete a certain level of education at a minimum. The parents might be subject to such a requirement without the need for further government intervention, just as owners of buildings and often of cars are compelled to abide by certain rules to ensure the safety of others. But there is a distinction between the two situations. In general, those who are unable to afford the expenditures of maintaining the standards necessary for buildings or autos may sell their property to get rid of it. Thus, usually speaking, the requirement may be carried out without government assistance. Our dependence on the family as the fundamental social unit and our belief in the freedom of the individual is obviously at odds with the separation of a kid from a parent who cannot afford to pay for the minimal needed education. Furthermore, it would probably hinder his preparation for citizenship in a free society.
It could still be viable and desirable to force the parents to pay the cost directly if the financial burden caused by such an education requirement could be easily absorbed by the vast majority of households in a society. Extreme situations could be addressed by specific family-subsidy measures. In many places in the United States today, these requirements are met. In these cases, it would be quite beneficial to charge the parents for the fees. By doing this, the government would no longer need the apparatus necessary to collect taxes from all inhabitants throughout their life and then return them mostly to the same individuals when their children are in school. It would lessen the possibility that governments would also run schools, a topic covered in more detail below. As the need for such subsidies decreased with rising general income levels, it would be more likely that the subsidy component of school spending would also decrease. If, as it is presently, the government covers all or the majority of the cost of education, an increase in income merely results in a greater cyclical flow of money via the tax system and an extension of the government’s involvement. Last but not least, putting the burden of paying for children’s expenses on the parents would help to better distribute families based on size by equalizing the social and private costs of raising children.
Such a program is scarcely practical in many areas of the United States due to differences in family income and child count, as well as the imposition of a quality of education requiring extremely high expenses. The government has instead taken on the financial burden of funding education both in these places and in others where such a program would be possible. It has paid for higher levels of education that are accessible to children but are not required of them, in addition to the minimum amount of education that is mandated for everyone. The previously mentioned “neighborhood impacts” are one reason in favor of both stages. The expenses are covered since this is the only practical way to enforce the necessary minimum. To provide better social and political leadership, individuals with more aptitude and interest must continue their education. This is why further education is funded. The benefits of these policies must be weighed against the expenses, and opinions regarding the level of subsidy that is appropriate might range considerably. However, the majority of us would undoubtedly conclude that the advantages are significant enough to warrant some kind of government assistance.
These reasons support the government’s decision to solely subsidize certain types of education. As you would expect, they do not defend funding merely vocational education, which boosts a student’s economic production but does not prepare him for civic engagement or leadership. It is quite challenging to distinguish clearly between the two forms of education. The majority of general education increases a student’s economic worth; in fact, only recently and in a few nations has literacy lost its marketability. Moreover, extensive practical training broadens students’ perspectives. However, the distinction has significance. As is frequently done in the United States in publicly funded educational institutions, funding the education of veterinarians, beauticians, dentists, and a variety of other specialists cannot be justified on the same grounds as funding elementary schools or, at a higher level, liberal arts colleges. Later in this chapter, it will be addressed if it may be justified using entirely other justifications.
Of fact, the qualitative case for “neighborhood impacts” does not specify the types of education that should get subsidies or the number of such subsidiconcludees. The societal benefit is probably greatest at the lowest levels of education when there is the closest thing to an agreement on the subject matter, and it steadily decreases as education levels grow. Even this assertion should not be accepted at its value. Many governments supported higher education long before they supported primary and secondary schools. The judgment of the community stated via its recognized political channels must determine which educational modalities provide the most social benefits and how much of the community’s limited resources should be allocated to them. The goal of this research is to understand the concerns surrounding decision-making, particularly if it is suitable to make the decision on a communal rather than individual basis, rather than to determine these matters for the community.
As we’ve shown, the “local effects” of education may be used to support both the imposition of a minimum standard of education and the government funding of this education. It is much harder to defend a third step—the real management of educational institutions by the government, or the “nationalization,” so to speak, of the majority of the “education industry”—based on these or, as far as I can see, any other justifications. Rarely has the desirability of such nationalization been addressed in full. Governments have often funded education by directly funding the operation of educational institutions. Thus, the choice to finance education appeared to necessitate this action. However, it would be simple to split the two phases. Governments could mandate a minimum standard of education that would be paid for by issuing parents vouchers redeemable for a set annual maximum amount per child when used toward “approved” educational services. Then, parents would be free to use this money along with any additional funds they chose to contribute to pay for educational services from an “approved” institution of their choosing. The educational services may be provided by for-profit businesses or by organizations that are not for profit. Similar to how it already inspects restaurants to ensure that they maintain minimal hygienic standards, the responsibility of the government would be confined to ensuring that the schools maintained some basic criteria, such as the inclusion of a minimum common material in their curricula. The United States educational program for veterans following World War II is a great illustration of one of these programs; each veteran who qualified was granted a maximum amount per year that may be spent at any school of his choosing as long as it fulfilled certain minimal requirements. A more specific example is the British law requiring local governments to cover certain kids’ non-state school tuition costs. Another is the system in place in France, when the state contributes to the expenses associated with students attending non-state institutions.
One justification for nationalizing schools based on the “neighborhood effect” is that it could be hard to offer the shared moral principles thought necessary for societal stability in an unnationalized system. It may not be enough to impose minimal requirements on privately run schools, as was previously proposed. Concrete examples of the problem can be found in the schools run by various religious movements. It might be claimed that such schools turn education into a dividing rather than a uniting factor by instilling sets of values that are incompatible with one another and with those taught in nonsectarian institutions.
If taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would advocate not only for government-run schools but also for mandatory attendance. The arrangements that are now in place in the United States and most other Western nations are a stopgap. There are government-run schools available, although they are not required. However, because of the connection between the funding of education and its administration, other schools are at a disadvantage because they receive little to no government funding for education, a situation that has caused much political controversy, particularly in France and currently in the United States. It is anticipated that removing this disadvantage will considerably strengthen the parochial schools, making it much harder to establish a shared set of values.
Despite how convincing this argument is, it is far from certain that it is true or that denationalizing education will have the results claimed. It is in contradiction with preserving freedom itself on a philosophical level. Another ill-defined boundary that is simpler to state than to describe is the one between upholding the shared social ideals necessary for a healthy society and indoctrination, which restricts the freedom of thinking and belief.
Denationalizing education would have the effect of giving parents a wider range of options. If parents can send their kids to public schools as they can now without paying extra, very few will be able to or want to send them to other schools unless those schools are also subsidized. Parochial schools have the advantage of being run by organizations that are willing to subsidize them and have the resources to do so, which makes up for the fact that they receive no public funding for education. There aren’t many other places where private schools can get financial aid. A broad range of schools would open up to accommodate the demand if current public spending on education were made accessible to parents regardless of where they sent their children to school. In a much more direct way, than is currently possible, parents could voice their opinions about schools by taking their kids out of one school and sending them to another. Generally speaking, they can only now make this change at great expense by moving or enrolling their kids in a private school. For the rest, they are limited to voicing their opinions through convoluted political channels. A government-run system would provide a little larger degree of school choice flexibility, but it would be difficult to use this freedom very far given the need to guarantee a space for every kid. Similar to other industries, competitive businesses are likely to be much more effective at satisfying consumer demand than nationalized businesses or businesses operated for other reasons. Therefore, the end outcome may be a fall rather than an increase in the significance of religious schools.
The reasonable resistance of parents whose children attend religious schools to raising taxes to pay for increased public school expenses is a similar issue moving in the same direction. As a consequence, it is very difficult to raise money for public schools in places where Catholic schools are significant. Public schools tend to be of inferior quality in these locations, making parochial schools comparatively more desirable, if the quality is connected to cost, which it is to some level.
The claim that government-run schools are required for education to be a uniting force faces a peculiar issue in that private schools tend to accentuate class differences. If parents had more discretion over where to send their kids, they would group and impede the beneficial interaction of kids from very diverse backgrounds. Regardless of whether this reasoning is sound, in theory, it is not at all obvious how the outcomes would pan out. The segmentation of living zones under the current system successfully prevents youngsters from clearly diverse backgrounds from mixing. Furthermore, parents are no longer prohibited from enrolling their kids in private schools. Except parochial schools, only a very small class can or does so, further dividing society.
Towards fact, this reasoning appears to me to indicate in the denationalization of schools, which is nearly exactly the opposite direction. In what way is the resident in a low-income area, let alone one that is mostly Black in a big metropolis, most disadvantaged? If he places enough value on something, like a new car, he may be able to save enough money to purchase the same vehicle as someone who lives in a wealthy suburb. He wouldn’t have to relocate there for that to happen. Instead, he can obtain the funds in part by making savings in his housing. The same applies to clothing, furniture, books, and other items. But let a slum-dwelling family with a brilliant kid place such a high value on that child’s education that they are prepared to sacrifice and save for it. The family is in a very difficult situation unless it can obtain special consideration or scholarship assistance at one of the extremely few private schools. The affluent areas are home to the “good” public schools. The family might be prepared to spend more money to provide their child with a better education than what they already pay in taxes. However, it would be difficult for it to concurrently shift to the upscale area.
Our perspectives in these areas, in my opinion, are still heavily influenced by the tiny town with only one school serving both wealthy and poor citizens. Public schools may have equalized opportunity in such conditions. The situation has radically altered as a result of the expansion of urban and suburban regions. Our current educational system most likely works in the exact opposite direction of equalizing opportunity. It makes it tougher for the exceptional few—who represent the future’s best hope—to escape the poverty of their starting position.
Another justification for nationalizing education is “technical monopoly,” which states that since competition cannot be relied upon to safeguard the interests of parents and students in small towns and rural areas where there may not be enough children to warrant more than one school of reasonable size. Unrestricted private monopoly, state-controlled private monopoly, and public operation are the alternatives in this situation of technical monopoly, and each represents a lesser of two evils. Even though this argument is undoubtedly valid and important, recent advancements in transportation and the growing concentration of people in urban areas have significantly undermined it.
At least for primary and secondary education, a system that combines public and private schools may come the closest to being justified by these factors. The estimated cost of educating a child in a public school would be paid to parents who choose to send their kids to private schools, provided that at least this amount was used for education in an approved school. The arguments in favor of the “technical monopoly” would be supported by this arrangement. It would put an end to parents’ legitimate complaints that they must pay twice for education—once in the form of general taxes and once directly—if they send their kids to private, non-subsidized schools. It would allow for the growth of competition. All schools’ growth and development would thereby be encouraged. A healthy variety of schools would be encouraged by the competition. Additionally, adding flexibility to school systems would be very beneficial. Making teacher salaries receptive to market forces would be one of its many advantages. Thus, it would provide public authorities with an objective yardstick by which to evaluate pay scales and encourage a quicker response to changes in supply and demand.
It is strongly advocated that more funding is needed for education in order to build more facilities and pay teachers higher salaries in order to recruit better teachers. This looks like a dubious diagnosis. Compared to our overall revenue, the amount spent on education has been increasing at an astronomically high pace. Teachers’ pay has been increasing far more quickly than those in similar professions. Although we may be spending too little, the main issue is that we are receiving so little for every dollar we spend. Perhaps the sums of money spent on opulent buildings and lavish gardens at many schools could be counted as expenses for education. Accepting them equally as educational expenses is difficult. The same holds true for classes in social dancing, basket weaving, and the many other specialized subjects that showcase educators’ creativity. I hasten to add that there is absolutely no reason why parents shouldn’t choose to spend their own money on such frills if they so choose. Their business is that. It is argued against using tax revenue collected from both parents and non-parents for these purposes. Where are the “neighborhood impacts” that would support this expenditure of tax dollars?
The current method of integrating school administration and funding is a crucial factor in this kind of usage of public funds. There is no other way for a parent to voice their desire except by convincing a majority to alter the composition of the class for everyone. This parent could like to see money allocated to better instructors and texts rather than coaches and hallways. This is a specific instance of the general principle that the political system forces conformity while the market allows each person to satisfy his or her own taste—effective proportional representation. Additionally, the parent who wants to invest additional funds in his child’s education is severely constrained. He cannot send his child to a school that costs a corresponding amount more than what is currently being paid to educate him or her. If he decides to transfer his child, he must cover the entire cost, not just the extra expense. He can only easily spend extra money on extracurricular activities like music lessons and dancing lessons. The pressure to spend more on children’s education manifests itself in ever higher public expenditures on items that are ever more tangentially related to the fundamental justification for governmental intervention in education because the private outlets for doing so are so constrained. As this analysis suggests, implementing the suggested arrangements may result in lower government spending on education but higher overall spending. It would make it easier for parents to purchase the things they desire, which would encourage them to spend more money both directly and indirectly via taxes than they already do. The current need for conformity in how the money is spent and the understandable reluctance of people who do not currently have children in school, and especially those who will not have them in the future, to impose higher taxes on themselves for purposes that are frequently far removed from education as they understand the term, would both be avoided. This would prevent parents from feeling frustrated about spending more money on education.
The main issue with teacher pay is not that they are on average too low—they may even be too high—but rather that they are too inflexible and homogeneous. Both competent and poor instructors are highly compensated in the teaching profession. Salary schedules often follow a regular pattern and are established more by seniority, educational attainment, and teaching credentials than by merit. This is also largely a result of the current system of governmental control over school administration and gets worse as the governmental control unit grows. The fact that professional educational organizations strongly support extending the unit from the local school district to the state and then the state to the federal government is due in large part to this very fact. Standard wage scales are virtually always present in bureaucratic, fundamentally civil service organizations; simulating competition that may result in significant disparities in salaries based on merit is almost impossible. The principal controllers are the educators—the instructors themselves. Little control is exercised by parents or the local community. The majority of employees prefer standard pay scales and are opposed to merit bonuses in all professions, including teaching, plumbing, and carpentry, for the obvious reason that there are rarely any people who are especially talented. This is a particular instance of the widespread propensity for people to seek to fix prices through industrial monopolies or union collusion. However, unless the government upholds them, or at the very least gives them significant support, collusive agreements will typically be destroyed by competition.
One could hardly do better than copy the system of requiring teaching certificates and enforcing standard salary structures that has developed in the larger city and state-wide systems if one were intentionally trying to devise a system of recruiting and paying teachers calculated to repel the imaginative, daring, and self-assured and to attract the dull, mediocre, and uninspiring. Perhaps unexpectedly, given the current situation, is the level of expertise in elementary and secondary school teaching. The alternative system would address these issues while allowing competition to be successful in rewarding merit and drawing talent to teaching.
Why has American government involvement in education taken the particular form it has? I lack the thorough understanding of educational history needed to provide a definite response to this question. Nevertheless, a few suppositions might be helpful in identifying the categories of factors that might affect the ideal social policy. I’m not even sure if the arrangements I’m suggesting now would have been preferable a century ago. The “technological monopoly” argument was considerably stronger prior to the significant increase in transportation. Importantly, the creation of the core set of shared values necessary for a stable society was the main issue in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries rather than the promotion of variety. Large numbers of immigrants from all over the world were pouring into the United States, speaking various languages and adhering to various customs. It was necessary to introduce some degree of conformity and loyalty to shared values in the “melting pot.” The public school played a significant role in completing this task, not the least of which was enforcing English as the common tongue. English proficiency could have been one of the minimum requirements set for schools to meet in order to be approved under the alternative voucher program. However, in a private school system, it might have been more challenging to ensure that this requirement was imposed and met. I don’t intend to imply that the public education system was unquestionably better than the alternative, only that the argument could have been made much more persuasively back then. Today, enforcing conformity is not the issue; rather, we face the prospect of too much uniformity. The solution would promote diversity much more successfully than a nationalized school system, which is our problem.
Another element that might have been significant a century ago was the absence of an effective administrative system to handle the distribution of vouchers and monitor their use, which was combined with the general disapproval of cash grants to individuals (also known as “handouts”). Such machinery is a modern phenomenon that has reached its pinnacle with the massive expansion of social security and personal taxation. The management of schools could have been thought of as the sole avenue for funding education in its absence.
As some of the aforementioned instances (France and England) indicate, certain aspects of the suggested arrangements are already present in current educational systems. Additionally, there has been significant and, in my opinion, growing push for such agreements in the majority of Western nations. This may be partially explained by contemporary advancements in the administrative machinery of governmental institutions that make such arrangements possible.
Although transitioning from the current system to the proposed one and managing it would entail several administrative challenges, none of these appear insurmountable nor singular. Similar to other operations that have been denationalized, prospective private businesses might purchase the current facilities and equipment. As a result, there wouldn’t be any capital lost during the transfer. The transition would be gradual and simple because governments would still run schools, at least in some areas. The local management of education in the United States and some other nations would similarly aid in the transition because it would encourage small-scale experimentation. Undoubtedly, it would be difficult to determine who is eligible for grants from a specific government agency, but this problem is the same as the current one of figuring out which agency must provide a child’s schooling facilities. Just as disparities in the quality of education now have this impact, changes in grant sizes would make one place more appealing than another. The only other issue is that because there is more latitude in choosing where to teach children, there may be more potential for abuse.
The standard justification for the status quo against any proposed change is the alleged difficulty of administration; however, in this case, it is an even weaker justification because the current arrangements must address not only the major issues raised by the proposed arrangements but also the additional issues raised by the administration of schools as a governmental function.