Libertarianism advocates respecting the liberty of people to pursue their own happiness to the extent that they do not infringe on the liberty of others. In the case of children, libertarians advocate strongly in returning to parents the freedom in choosing how to raise their children. Most moderate libertarians are willing to accept state funding of schools, but do not believe that the state should run schools. Instead they propose alternatives, such as charter schools and a voucher system.
Charter schools are run independently in the understanding that they will deliver academic results. Academic Decathlon, a national academic competition between high schools, is consistently won by charter schools. Recently Granada Hills, a local charter school, won a second year in a row. Needless to say Charter schools are definitely achieving high academic results versus their counterparts.
A voucher system is something both simple and at the same time revolutionary. Currently students have little if any decision in where they can attend, and are usually simply designated a school depending on where they live. Due to this there is very little competition between schools to improve their teaching standards since students and parents have no other option.
Under a voucher system students decide which school they want to attend. Every year, each child could have a voucher worth a given amount of money that they could use to pay tuition in a private school, or to attend any state school of their choice. All children would still be guaranteed primary schooling.
Schools would not however be assured that students would choose to go to their schools. They would have to keep a high standard of quality in order to draw in students or they would cease to exist. Good schools would prosper, and there would be a new incentive for educational entrepreneurs to go into business themselves and create new quality schools. All of those who feel frustrated about the inefficient state schools could finally have a chance to revolutionize education by founding new schools.
Consider that we are constantly being told that our primary schools are amongst the worst in the developed world, yet our colleges continue to dominant worldwide rankings. Why is this? It is because in higher education there is a tremendous amount of choice. State colleges, like CSUN, are in the end of the day very cheap to attend. At the same time students have plenty of choices of where to attend if they truly dislike being Matadors. Those of us in the Los Angeles have CSLA, UCLA, USC, in addition to several smaller Cal States and specialty colleges like Southwestern Law School. Imagine if these same choices were offered at the primary schooling level!
There is one common complaint against the libertarian proposal to reform schooling: What if parents decide to teach their kids creationism? Doesn’t that justify giving the state complete control over schooling? The argument relies on the presumption that we need to surrender some of our liberties in order to receive safety from the state.
From an economic stand point there is justification that sometimes you need to give up X in order to get more safety. It would be possible for us to minimize car casualties to zero if we all rode around on tanks. The sacrifice though would be speed, gas efficiency, and increased cost in maintaining roads. The fact that we don’t ride around in tanks is proof that we are okay with some car related deaths in exchange for the convenience of our current cars. The same is true about schooling; voucher schools might specialize in one field of academics and have a lousy biology department that teaches creationism, but this would be acceptable if the students had no interest in biology. I am sure to anger some biologists, but scores of professions do not need to know if or how evolution works.
Ultimately this choice between trade-offs should be up to parents, who often have the best interests of the children at heart. If it is true that state schools will make sure that students receive a certain level of education, then parents will still have the choice to send their schools to any state school they wish for free. However those parents who want to send their children elsewhere will also have the choice. The voucher system at no points reduces school choice, but always expands upon it.
Unfortunately neither major Presidential candidate is in favor of a true voucher system. Mitt Romney is in support of providing reform to allow low income and disabled students greater choice in what schools they attend, but this is a strange approach. If school choice is genuinely good, then why not offer it to everyone?
President Barack Obama’s main efforts in education seem to be in increasing funding, but studies show that there is very little correlation with increased funding and improved education without accompanying reforms in administration.
Romney wishes to grant states greater power over education and Obama is against the current No Child Left Behind policy – both candidates understand the need to localize education, but it is unclear just how well they understand. On the bright side, both candidates are in support of charter schools, which is definitively a move forward in bettering education.