Nearly two-thousand years ago, the Roman attorney and man of letters Pliny the Younger decided to found a high-school in his home town of Como, in what is now Northern Italy. Being wealthy, he could easily have afforded to fully endow the school, but elected not to do so. He based his decision on his long experience as a corruption prosecutor, and his personal knowledge of abuses that occurred “in many places where teachers’ salaries are paid from public funds.” To ensure that teachers at his new school would assiduously serve families, and that parents carefully oversaw their children’s teachers, Pliny required parents to make a substantial co-payment. He reasoned that “People who may be careless about another person’s money are sure to be careful about their own, and they will see that only a suitable [teacher] shall be found for my money if he is also to have their own.”
Pliny was right then, and he is right now. Across the centuries and around the world, direct financial responsibility for parents is associated with significantly better student outcomes and school conditions, with keeping costs more firmly under control, and with the minimization of fraud.
Parental financial responsibility is also indispensable for another reason: it is the only means by which parents have historically managed to retain control over what, where, and by whom their children are taught. Without financial responsibility, parental choice has sooner or later been lost. Third-party payment in elementary and secondary education has consistently been associated with eventual third-party control over the content and delivery of that education. The case of Holland, described in the “Policies” section below, is typical.