Friday Freakout: Is Overregulation Inevitable?

This week, Joy Pullman of The Federalist published a piece championing school choice as an intellectual winner, but warning that “School Choice Fights Will Shift to Regulation.”  Today’s freakout reflects two very troubling, but common, misconceptions.

Clarifying What “School Reform Types” Want

We kindly disagree with Bill. At least for this “school reform type,” we never “thought (we) could create an unregulated parallel school system.” Heck, our founder didn’t even propose that when he introduced the school choice idea in 1955:

Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services.

Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an “approved” institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds.The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards (emphasis added). An excellent example of a program of this sort is the United States educational program for veterans after World War II. Each veteran whoqualified was given a maximum sum per year that could be spent at any institution of his choice, provided it met certain minimum standards.

Bill also should take a close look at our most recent report, “Public Rules on Private Schools.” In it, we examined exactly how many regulations private schools faced before and after school choice programs were ever enacted. There are some standout programs that had minimal regulatory impact and, contrary to Bill’s opinion, didn’t implode. Arizona’s education savings account program is one that give parents complete control without overburdening educational service providers with overregulation.

But, most important, we found that private schools were no strangers to regulations. In fact, 61 percent of all private school regulations in existence today were in place before the analyzed programs ever entered the picture. So, absent school choice programs, choice-based schools—which private schools naturally are—will always face regulations from policymakers.

Though Bill’s concerns are warranted. We must remain vigilant to ensure schools have independence. Diversity is needed in education—not central control.

Clarifying How Charter Schools Operate

Admittedly, we are not experts on charter schools. But, again, we disagree with Bill that “charters expand at the expense of public schools.” Charters expand because they’re filling a need and, clearly, meeting parents’ and children’s needs. Education funding should not be controlled by any one school but rather by every single parent. As Milton Friedman said, fund students, not schools.

The money charter schools receive is used to educate children, the same as traditional public schools, albeit differently. Giving educators that freedom is to be celebrated. Of course, some charter schools struggle to help students attain, but the same can be said for some traditional public schools. At least charter schools face greater pressure to close via their authorizers and/or parents’ decisions to stay or go.

There are many charters helping disadvantaged students make bigger strides with more limited public funds:

Aspire Public Schools

72 percent are low-income

100 percent of graduates matriculated to college

IDEA Public Schools

83 percent are low-income

100 percent of graduates matriculated to college

Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)

86 percent of students are low-income

83 percent of graduates matriculated to college

In a new Friedman Foundation report coming in early July, the author gathered not only the above performance data, but also the strategies top-performing charter schools and charter management organizations utilize to adjust for economies of scale, avoid inefficiencies, and maintain their autonomy. We encourage folks with the same concerns as Bill to check out The Chartered Course.

Ultimately, we aim high in hopes we can get as close as possible to an education system that empowers students, parents, and educators before assuming any desired one-size-fits-all outcome (see No Child Left Behind as an example). In other words, we want to be by the puppy’s side as it wades into the water and learns to swim before yanking it out and strapping a life jacket, leg floaties, and an oxygen tank on its back.

The assumption that education can’t and won’t evolve past the predictable cycles of the present lacks vision. It lacks creativity. Most important, it lacks a basic faith in humanity’s ability to make life better. We choose to be of the camp that sees innovations changing our society every day, and trusting that parents, teachers, principals, and entrepreneurs can do the same for the educational system serving our nation’s youth.

Would you join us?