Imagine that your state creates a government-run grocery store chain because food is essential to survival. You don’t pay for your groceries, but your taxes skyrocket. The stores don’t need to compete for profit, so they don’t bother to win you over. Thus, the stench of slimy produce embraces you as you enter, and the milk has turned to gourmet cheese in the carton. Instead of cashiers, workers check to see that you don’t exceed your assigned ration. You’d love to see if any other public grocery stores are better, but bureaucrats have assigned you to one grocery store based on your physical address. No problem for the rich–they can move to a different address serviced by a better grocery store, or they can shop at a private store that makes Whole Foods sound like a bargain. Sound arbitrary and unfair? Welcome to the world of public education.
The lack of competition in K-12 education has trapped lots of kids in rotten schools–especially low-income and minority kids. However, many state legislatures have begun to realize that school choice improves educational quality. Last week, Montana joined these ranks when it passed a tax credit scholarship bill that will give kids a new range of educational choices. Up until now, Montana has remained one of the few states without a private school choice program.
Tax credit systems encourage private donors to contribute K-12 scholarship money to private organizations that distribute the funds to parents. The donors then receive a tax credit for the donation, and the parents can use the funding to get their kids into a school of their choice.
Research shows that school choice programs like tax credits improve educational quality for all kids, even those who remain in the public school system. As public schools’ funding drops because of students opting for private school, they respond like any company would: they fight for customers by improving their services. Kids can get healthy food thanks to a competitive market. They should enjoy access to quality education for the same reason.