Parental Choice and Responsibility

As any parent — or, indeed, anyone who has spent time with more than one child — knows, children are different. They have different interests, strengths, and needs, and they each develop at their own pace. We should not expect, therefore, that any one school will be perfectly tailored to serve all the children who happen to live in any given area.

Educational choice programs empower parents to choose the education that best meets their child’s needs. While all humans are imperfect, parents have historically made considerably better educational choices for their own children than state-appointed bureaucrats have made for the children of others. Moreover, as Andrew J. Coulson explains, market forces work to benefit even the less-informed parents.

Though not all parents are equally well-informed in their education decision-making, markets allow the decisions of the best-informed consumers to benefit not only themselves but their less-informed fellow citizens as well. Each school in a competitive market has to offer the most effective services it can, at the lowest possible cost, or risk losing the business of every family that takes the time to compare prices and outcomes. As a result, even parents who do not spend weeks or months in faithful comparison shopping benefit from the efforts of those who do.
Parental choice drives schools to be more responsive to parents. When parents can vote with their feet, schools are held directly accountable to them, therefore the schools must offer the type and quality of instruction and programming that parents value. The best available evidence suggests that both students participating in educational choice programs and those who remain at government schools benefit from the increased choice and competition.

Another advantage of parental choice is that it helps avoid social conflict over what schools teach and how they teach it. There is a legitimate diversity of views about what constitutes the best form of education, and different parents have different values and priorities. In a school system that is funded by taxpayers and run by the government, people with mutually exclusive values or priorities are forced into conflict with each other. By contrast, a system of parental choice allows parents to choose the schools that best align with their values, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Along with parental choice should come a degree of parental financial responsibility. As both Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman and Roman attorney Pliny the Younger have noted, people tend to spend their own money more wisely and efficiently than they spend others’ money. Across the centuries and around the world, education systems in which parents pay at least some of the cost directly are associated with significantly better student outcomes.

Parental financial responsibility is also essential to parents retaining control over what and how their children are taught. Subsidizing low-income parents through educational choice programs like scholarship tax credits is often necessary, but parents should cover at least some of the costs of educating their children whenever possible. Total third-party payment for education, especially by the government, has too frequently resulted in third-party control over the content and delivery of that education. As the saying goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Fortunately, even partial co-payments by parents have been found to significantly improve school efficiency.

Next up, read about School Freedom and Competition.

 

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