Recently, news surfaced that appeared to justify critics’ fears. Between the beginning of 2003and the middle of 2004, Florida’s Palm Beach Post broke a slew of stories identifying corruption in the state’s three school choice programs. The number of stories alone seemed to confirm that a choice‐based system of education is hopelessly prone to corruption. But when Florida’s choice problems are compared with cases of fraud, waste, and abuse in public schools—schools supposedly inoculated against corruption by “public accountability”—choice problems suddenly don’t seem too bad.
So which system is more likely to produce schools that are scandal free, efficient, and effective at educating American children? The answer is school choice, precisely because it lacks the bureaucratic mechanisms of public accountability omnipresent in public schools.
In many districts bureaucracy is now so thick that the purveyors of corruption use it to hide the fraud they’ve perpetrated and to deflect blame if their misdeeds are discovered. However, for the principals, superintendents, and others purportedly in charge of schools, bureaucracy has made it nearly impossible to make failed systems work. Public accountability has not only failed to defend against corruption, it has also rendered many districts, especially those most in need of reform, impervious to change.
In contrast to our moribund public system, school choice isn’t encumbered by compliance‐driven rules and regulations, which allows institutions to tailor their products to the needs of the children they teach and lets parents select the schools best suited to their child’s needs. And accountability is built right in: schools that offer parents what they want at a price they are willing to pay will attract students and thrive, while those that don’t will cease to exist.