July 26, 2010 12:31PM

Washington State Considers Privatizing the System

Washington state legislators will reportedly have to cut billions from the budget when they reconvene next session, and governor Christine Gregoire has commissioned a privatization study to see if taking the big step makes economic sense. Washington’s public schools spend about $13 billion annually (around $13,000/pupil — see Table 8 here), so increasing the system’s efficiency has the potential to solve the state’s budget crisis.…

…which is why many Washington taxpayers will be disappointed to learn that the governor’s privatization study is only for the ferry system, not the schools. Since ferry‐​travelers pick up about two thirds of the system’s operating costs, its total burden on taxpayers is 26 times smaller than that of the public schools. Even if ferry operations could magically be made entirely free, it wouldn’t solve WA’s budget problems.

Of course there’s a widespread belief that schools have to be run by the state to build social harmony and preserve the republic, but these beliefs, though deeply held, have no basis in reality. The civic‐​mindedness of independent school students/​graduates is typically equal to or greater than that of public school students/​graduates, and having a single official system of state schools actually creates social conflict over the curriculum — conflict that increased parental choice would lessen.

So not only would liberating Washington education from the shackles of monopoly help to control costs, it would better realize the ideals that a public education system is meant to advance.

Gov. Gregoire?