Funding students and not schools (pirate style)

In recognition of this special September 19, I offer my views on vouchers in pirate-speak:

Vouchers are in th’ news again, with the Australia Institute stirrin’ up th’ pot in th’ media recently. Fire the cannons! And hoist the mainsail! Vouchers have also bein’ suggested fer disabled little sandcrabs and those with readin’ difficulties but fer th’ purposes o’ this post I’ll focus on ideas fer universal vouchers fer all school little sandcrabs that are funded by th’ government. Aarrr!

In a nutshell, I am not advocatin’ that government withdraw from fundin’ education (at school level). Ahoy! I think this a pragmatic approach. Governments should withdraw from runnin’ schools but provide everyone subsidised education at school level. Parents should have a choice as t’ what school they send their child with th’ ‘X’ amount o’ dubloons th’ government gives, but are free t’ spend beyond that t’ provide better quality. Aarrr! Fetch me spyglass!

Basic education at school level should be available t’ all little sandcrabs who desire it because it confers positive social benefits on society as a whole. Society needs scallywags t’ have a minimum standard o’ literacy and mathematical ability, by Blackbeard’s sword. Universities on th’ other hand, produce graduates who solely capture th’ value o’ their degree.

It doesn’t make sense fer low wage workers t’ have their taxes redistributed t’ subsidise th’ university fees o’ lawyers or doctors in-trainin’, fer example. If there are shortages in these areas th’ market will automatically and impersonally send out th’ signals that attract th’ desired workers (i.e. higher wages or salaries). Fetch me spyglass! Fetch me spyglass!

Where t’ get th’ funds fer free school level education? One idear is universities and colleges (there may be some possible exceptions in th’ skills-based ones). Governments should (a) stop fundin’ and runnin’ them completely, and (b) divert funds gained t’ parents/guardians who have school-age little sandcrabs. I’m not entirely sure vouchers should be means tested. Fetch me spyglass! I think ’tis better they weren’t – th’ notion is t’ raise overall fundin’ fer th’ school sector, not just redistribute funds.

Givin’ t’ schools directly has not worked well. Give th’ dubloons t’ parents (if not through a voucher, perhaps through a tax credit) and watch schools compete and raise standards t’ get students. More accountability and openness so parents could make informed choices regardin’ actual performance wouldn’t hurt either. If this means some bad schools go under, well, tough. Australian students deserve th’ best. And th’ best isn’t necessarily what th’ educational unions – who have a vested interest in th’ system stayin’ th’ way it is – want.

Hat-tip: Andrew Leigh

6 thoughts on “Funding students and not schools (pirate style)

  1. A very piratical post. Reminds me o’ the time I ‘as four cleats to a futtock, with a saber in my teeth, eyein’ off leerily a bottle o’ rum in the blood-red sunset now look smart therre.

    Howsomever. School vouchers. Damn good tale, damn good tale me lad (wipes spittle from chin). [Cawing of parrot off stage]. “Dammee thar! Dammee thar God b*** [here follows a string of choice salty nautical expletives coupled with dreadful gap-toothed halitosis”]

    Now. [Looks around, bewildered.] Where ‘as I? Ah yes.

    State education is most piratical and is flawed with four compulsions: compulsory contributions, compulsory curriculum, compulsory occupational licensure, and compulsory attendance. Any reduction in such compulsion is good. But think on this, I arsk yer.

    If the voucherrs was only redeemable with serrvice providerrs licensed by the state, it would larrgely defeat the purrpose. But if they were redeemable with service providers without any teaching qualification at all at all, it would be the same as handing out cash, because anyone, such as the local pizza shop or brothel, could accept a voucher and issue an invoice for ‘educational services’. But the whole point of giving out vouchers instead of cash is the paternalistic one of requiring require the money to be spent on little Jack Hawkins edumacation, like.

    I personally think that state education should be abolished wholesale. To pretend to justify it by saying that education ‘benefits society’ – so what? – nearly all private activity benefits society. Sex benefits society – should that be under governmental compulsion as to place, personnel and standards too?

    Anyway, assuming that vouchers are introduced, there should also be as few as possible conditions as to occupational licensure, curriculum and attendance too, otherwise we’ll just be getting state education in a different place.

  2. I agree in principle: we should privatise all education, including primary and secondary. State accreditation of the places where vouchers are redeemable could be okay however, if intervention in school autonomy was very small.
    Vouchers are the most politically palpatable solution to get to total privatisation.

    Maybe governments should be funding school education only until people are wealthy enough to choose to spend on their kids? In poorer countries children invariably get pulled from school and forced into labour (which is understandable). Australia is at the point where most people would choose to send their kids to school even if it wasn’t compulsory (and free).

    There does need to be some compulsion, in the case of rogue parents. Individual freedom cannot negate the responsibility to develop your child to some extent once you have brought it into this world. Similarly, you cannot use freedom as an excuse to abandon your wife and kids without taking on some responsibility.

  3. The whole point about the principle of liberty is that people should be free to do what they want, so long as they are not hurting others, and government should uphold the individual’s right to life, liberty and property, and not go meddling into areas in which it can only do more harm than good.

    State education involves government in violating these core values. It is wrong in layers and layers. It is not legitimate to assume that state education is a good, because if anyone else did what the state did in this activity, it would be a crime or tort: forced contributions = demanding money with menaces, forced attendance = physically detaining a child without the parent’s consent = false imprisonment or abduction, forced curricululm = indoctrination, and forced qualification = a restraint of trade. If it is a crime or tort for anyone else, why should government be in a privileged position? The idea that the people government can or must be presumed to know better than the parents of children is wrong. The people in government are just people. They are not demi-gods. They do not have superior wisdom.

    It is not for you to decide what other people’s responsibilities should be. Many of the greatest entrepreneurs have been precisely those men who were least suited to state schooling and left early. How do you know that a parent’s decision to remove his child from school is not wiser and better?

    It may be true that state schools teach children to read and write (and often it is not true), but the question is how well off a child would be taught *in the absence* of the entire machinery of confiscation and forced attendance. The problem is, while the fat farty arse of government is suffocating all the competition, it is impossible to know. But we do know that what the government is providing is worse than the private alternative, because of the knowledge problem that is at the core of the impossibility of socialist calculation.

    If people are not smart enough to decide for themselves what consensual relations to enter into through the market, then how can the same people choose through the ballot box to put officials over them to limit their choice on exactly the same matters? How can a person appoint another person to ‘represent’ ‘on his behalf’ that he himself does not have the competence of a principal? Any argument for state schooling involves a fatal self-contradiction. The fact that no logical argument in favour of state schooling can be maintained without the arguer contradicting himself, shows that the arguments are illogical, and that the real reason for the existence of state schooling is power not reason, might not right – in other words, the whole thing is a legal fraud. It is important to understand this.

    “Maybe governments should be funding school education only until people are wealthy enough to choose to spend on their kids?”

    Even the poorest of the poor in Australia already spend each year more than the cost of state education on goods and services which should rank lower in priority than their own child’s education, such as TVs and videos and microwaves and mobile phones, and takeaway foods and chocolate biscuits, and cigarettes and gameboys. I know because I visit them.

    There does not ‘need’ to be compulsion ‘in the case of rogue parents’. If this argument were accepted, there would be no justification for any liberty, anywhere. People are not ‘rogues’ for no other reason than that they disagree with the state in any of its many utopian projects to mould people as if they were plasticine.

    It is not for you to tell people how to raise their child. Your moral opinions are your moral opinions. They are not ground for the use of government to try to force people to do what you want. If you should have a power to force others to comply with your values other than those of life, liberty or property, then why shouldn’t others have a power to force you to comply with theirs, whether that is to do with children, or religion, or sexuality, or companion animals, or interior decorating, or whatever?

    The whole idea of liberty is that there should be less compulsion to comply with arbitrary opinion. It has to be done on principle. You can’t do it by expedience on a case-by-case basis – that’s what caused the original erosion of freedom that libertarians oppose.

  4. By rogue parents I didn’t mean parents caught violating a law which states children 15 years and under must attend school, I meant those who simply refuse to demonstrate responsibility for their kids or to their kids, full-stop. Education is very important as a tool of social mobility. So what happens when the kid wants to go to school but the parents would rather spend the money on the pokies?

    However, I take back the comment in my original post saying we should maintain/increase funding to schools. That was rather silly of me. Also, the post should be read in light of what is politically feasible. The ideal system would be a fully privatised one (with some targeted funding for extreme cases, eg. the orphan kid with no living relatives) where curriculum and licensing are not controlled by the state.

    I still think there are social benefits of school level education, but as you point out, it comes at the expense of other things, with some students choosing to continue with education when they would (were education not subsidised) move into another field sooner. But that doesn’t rule out governments funding, and compelling, parents to send their kids to primary school only.

    Imposition of values does not have to occur if, in working out the details of the voucher program, an extremely light-handed approach to regulation of the educational institutions eligible is adopted. A voucher system would probably still stifle some diversity though, and the temptation would be to revert back to greater regulation.

    That’s probably the strongest argument for no voucher system at all!

  5. Yes; although I can’t see how vouchers would stifle diversity compared to the current system.

    In general, people have always placed a high value on education, and most people will make proper provision to ensure their child gets a proper education. I tend to think the number and proportion of people who wouldn’t have their children educated, even if it were paid-for by someone else, is probably small. Rembember also that, of the non-conformists, some will be unorthodox high performers who have good reasons for not attending school and better substitutes. Also of the no-hoper non-conformists, there are many whom compulsory attendance does not fix up, and their children still end up illiterate or uneducated.

    I think the greatest problem the non-conformists present, is that this small minority are taken as a reason for wide-ranging governmental restrictions on the whole population, which make educational outcomes worse for the society taken as a whole. Viewed in this way, the better education of the great multitude is sacrificed so as to provide a minimum and second-rate education for the very few.

    The problem of the non-conformists also shows in miniature what has become a bad habit in our society: see a social problem, immediately call for the government to do something, get a wasteful dysfunctional ‘service’ that is worse than the original problem, and then be unable to get rid of the nest of vested interests that have been created.

    In the absence of a thousand regulations on everything, and with the huge education budget never taken in tax, private charity could, would and should supply all of the social response to the small minority of children of the ‘rogues’, and that should be the end of the matter.

    If I had my way, it would be unconstitutional for the state to compel contributions, attendance, curriculum and licenses to teach – at least for secondary schooling and above. Freedom celebrates the right not to conform!

    Probably if there is one single thing that libertarians should make their priority, it is is freeing up state education. I agree that although abolition is preferable, one has to think what is politically feasible. Voucherisation with a minimum of restrictions should be popular, and would free up the whole field, and let a bit of sunlight in on this stifling nest of destructive vested interets.

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