Question #19

Because of the costs of transporting students away from neighborhood schools, won't systems of educational choice be more expensive than current systems?

A system of educational choice need not cost more than current educational systems, and might cost less. Transportation only raises costs significantly if the supply of schools is restricted to public schools as they are now constituted. If the supply of schools is allowed to respond to demand, the supply is likely to expand, with relatively small numbers of large comprehensive schools being replaced by larger numbers of small, specialized schools. This expansion could easily occur without the construction or acquisition of new facilities if several schools shared a building. "Schools within a school," as this concept is usually known, were used to more than double the number of schools in East Harlem's choice system. But however the supply expanded, students would find a significant number of choices within a distance that is now served by the transportation arrangements of public education systems.

Of course, if the supply of schools were not expanded, transportation would cost more, and either taxpayers or parents would have to pay for it. But these costs might not prove to be onerous, for they could be offset by administrative savings in operating a decentralized system. There is every reason to believe that the administrative structure of a public choice system would be less bureaucratized than today's public school systems, and look more like private educational systems, where competition compels decentralization and administrative savings. While the efficiency of a choice system might not reduce the costs of education substantially – depending on how it is measured, administration only represents 5-20 percent of the costs of public education – the savings ought to be enough to offset any increased transportation costs, which are not now a large part of school budgets either.