January 21, 2011 2:35PM

If They Gave Out Awards for Good Policy Design…

…the folks in South Carolina would be top contenders for the gold.

Here’s the thing: all the evidence shows that educators are human beings like the rest of us and that education benefits from the same market freedoms and incentives that have driven progress in every other field. So how do you unleash those market forces so that our kids have the best shot at fulfilling their potentials? For a start:

  • You minimize regulation on what and how teachers teach.
  • You make it easy for families to choose whichever schools (or homeschooling) they deem best for their kids.
  • You encourage people to pay directly for their own children’s education to the greatest extent possible, reserving third‐​party payment (which is inherently problematic) to an as‐​needed basis

As a result, schools compete for the privilege of serving each and every child and they are attentive to parents’ demands because otherwise their livelihoods will suffer. Parents, in turn, become more invested in their children’s education — both literally and figuratively — because suddenly they have the power to exercise their educational responsibilities, and they expect to get value for the money they spend.

There are already a few school choice programs around the country that move in this direction, but a bill under consideration in South Carolina would do a better job than any of them. First, it offers tax cuts to parents who personally shoulder the cost of their own kids’ education, and those cuts are more meaningful in size than the ones currently offered in Illinois and Iowa. As Milton Friedman (and Pliny the Younger) rightly said: people are most careful spending their own money on their own families. Second, it extends its benefits to homeschoolers, which few other choice programs do. Third, it provides tuition assistance to low‐​income families through nonprofit scholarship organizations (SGOs) that are funded by private tax‐​creditable donations—better than any other system of third‐​party education aid.

If enacted, this program will not only provide a wonderful new range of educational options to South Carolina families, it will save taxpayers millions due to the tremendous inefficiency of the existing state‐​run monopoly school system. That combination of improved education options and reduced tax burden will in turn attract new businesses to the state, spurring economic growth. All in all, a pretty darn good deal.