Anything Pro-Choice is Good – G.C.
GC: We should promote as wide a range of programs as possible and adopt the following as our guiding principle: "If it advances parental choice in education, it's good. If it diminishes parental choice in education, it's bad."
I regard that view as the single greatest threat to the creation of an effective education market, and it is precisely the view Forging Consensus is meant to challenge. Badly designed "choice" programs will not show results, or will show bad results, and will poison support for better designed programs through guilt by association.
Effective markets require far more than parental choice alone. They require substantial freedom from regulation for producers, active competition among producers, and some level of both profit making and direct parent funding. The failure to recognize these other necessary ingredients of effective markets is responsible for the advocacy of "school choice" reforms that will not, and indeed cannot, produce the sort of positive results normally associated with free markets.
Tax Credits Have Been Fall-Back Plans – G.C.
GC: Second, tax credit proposals have generally been introduced as backup plans when voucher legislation failed to get passed.
To the extent that this is true, it commends tax credit programs over vouchers. If minimally regulated (though usually small) tax credit programs could be passed in states where no voucher legislation of any kind was viable, then think what might be possible in states open to market education reform more generally.
Inclusion of Property Taxes Would Make Tax Credits a Third Rail – G.C.
GC: I addressed the sufficiency issue in a paper for ALEC last year and concluded tax credits were unlikely to generate the funds necessary to support a large enough number of high-value scholarships to support a very large shift of students from the public schools and/or to stimulate the creation of new private school seats. As a result, tax credits also were unlikely to have much of an effect on stimulating public schools to improve since they would not create much competition for students. Vouchers do not suffer from this lack of sufficiency.
However, I was glad to see you at last address the application of the tax credit to property taxes, which would generate a more sizable credit for most families, even if they paid no income tax and rented their home. However, such a proposal would generate the same furious opposition to school choice as vouchers does because the proposal directly challenges the public school establishment's control over the education funds they currently use. If such tax credits had been proposed from the beginning, there wouldn't be such a strong belief that tax credits are "easier" to implement than vouchers.
Actually, the Mackinac Center published a detailed universal education tax credit proposal that included property taxes back in 1997. In any event, even if the ease-of-passage advantage is eventually did not exist, it would not alter the practical superiority, as I see it, of UETCs over vouchers. At worst, it would make the difficulty of passing optimal UETCs equivalent to that of passing optimal vouchers. If so, I argue, we should still favor UETCs for the practical reasons outlined in the paper.
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom – G.C.
GC: [A] better solution would be, as I suggested at the outset, not to be so focused on creating one silver bullet choice program to solve all our K-12 education problems but to have a menu of programs available so that parents can choose the programs that best meet their needs and then use those programs to pick the school that best meets their child's needs. Instead of arguing about which is the BEST dish to offer, we should agree that most dishes are nutritious.
But, as I read the evidence, not all school choice "dishes" are nutritious. Some are paste. Some are poison. There is enough evidence, if we bother to look at it, for us to shy away from some programs and to coalesce around others. I am open to the possibility that people will interpret the evidence somewhat differently. However, if they look at it and largely agree that certain programs are clearly and categorically better than others at fulfilling the public’s needs and aspirations, it would be policy malpractice to continue advocating programs we know to be inferior. Sometimes one policy is just better than another, and mixing in a little of the inferior policy does not improve overall outcomes. Would we really benefit from adding a little anarchy or theocracy, as I asked earlier, to our current political system?
The fact that people with vested financial and ideological interests in the status quo blindly oppose all market-inspired education reforms does not mean that we should be equally indiscriminate in our support of them.