Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Reversal on School Choice

It seems that long time school choice advocate Sol Stern has expressed doubts on the free-markets ability to enhance public education; His change of opinion on the matter is a serious blow to free-market advocates. In his City Journal piece, Mr. Stern points out that one of the reasons that he has come to his new conclusion is due to the perceived failure of the Milwaukee voucher program; A program in which he was a lauded proponent. As Mr. Stern states of the programs fifteen year run, “no ‘Milwaukee miracle,’ no transformation of the public schools, has taken place.”

What I found most striking about Sterns conclusion about the Milwaukee voucher programs difficulties and struggles was that Stern completely missed the real cause of its problems. Milwaukee's voucher program was hamstrung from the start because it never operated in a true free-market. The voucher program was capped at 1,500 students for the first eight years. Can you imagine any other industry being forced to cap it’s customers for that length of time? It’s no wonder that Catholic schools are closing down all over the country as Stern states in his article. The game was rigged from the get-go. Stern suggests that it is possible, “to create the conditions for vigorous market competition within public school systems, with the same beneficent effects that were supposed to flow from a pure choice program.” But I think that he is simply looking through the wrong end of the telescope because there are still no real incentives for long term and institutional reform. Or that the power of special interests will be curbed as Stern himself admits. Perhaps Mr. Stern and others like him should take a closer look at Sweden, and they should ask themselves why a notoriously welfare-state has done so well with their school choice program.

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