Education Savings Accounts are a win for public and private education

March 01, 2016 | By ETHAN BLEVINS

Adam Smith said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” This isn’t a dismal judgment on the greed of mankind. We’re just more likely to get what we want if we make it advantageous for others to give it to us. But we often delete this axiom from the economics of education.

Studies have shown that dumping money into public schools coughs up diminishing returns. For the most part, public schools enjoy monopoly privileges–their customers are stuck with them, regardless of quality. Hence, public schools don’t operate under market pressures to improve and innovate. Thus, forking over more cash to public schools is like showering more gold and goblets onto a dragon’s bed of riches in the hopes of inspiring him to wake up and do some good.

Education Savings Accounts offer a great way to maximize the value of school funding. Under these programs, eligible students can take a piece of their per-pupil public school money and apply it toward private school tuition, online education, or other alternatives. These programs open doors for students of every background, not just the wealthy few. But they also prod public schools toward greater excellence, as these schools must now compete to keep students who can take their per-pupil tax dollars elsewhere.

Arizona became the first state to implement an Education Savings Account in 2011. Four more states have created similar programs. And the Arizona Senate has now passed a bill that will expand student eligibility for the program. Over a period of three years, the program will grow to include all K-12 students. This important step toward greater choice would improve public and private education in Arizona.

Unfortunately, school choice opponents have stalled the bill’s progress in the House. They argue the expansion will hurt public schools. Their alternative is unsurprising: pour more many into Arizona’s public schools.

School choice programs are not the enemies of the public schools. Instead, they help public schools overcome the natural inertia that settles in when no particular reward will result from better performance. As with the butcher, the brewer, and the baker, we shouldn’t rely on educators’ benevolence alone when it comes to our children’s education. We should favor programs that reward educators for offering the best education possible. Education Savings Accounts do just that.