Should I be forced to pay for public education even though I don’t have kids? A friend recently posed this question to me, and I haven’t found a compelling enough reason to answer him in the affirmative. It’s an interesting question, and it perhaps implies that public education would suffer should only childbearing parents bear the cost burden of education. If this implication is correct, I wonder how this came to be. Nevertheless, let’s assume that this is the case, and let’s see if we can work through this.
Part of me wants to believe the benefits of publicly funded education outweigh the costs. Society is better off if our kids can read, write, add, and subtract. Highly educated societies are shown to be more productive, healthier, and wealthier. Therefore, I do think compulsory publicly funded education does offer some credible benefits.
I can think of a few negatives of this scenario. First, just as my friend proposed – should folks with zero kids subsidize those with kids? Seems immoral of the state to confiscate money from Joe to help pay for Suzie’s kids sans Joe’s consent. If you find this okay because Joe’s money is going for education, suppose the state confiscated Joe’s money to subsidize senior citizens nursing home care (or any other activity the state desires). I’m sure there are other objections, but this one rates high.
Now let’s pretend education isn’t publicly funded, but directly through user fees. Folks aren’t taxed in advance by the state, so everyone starts whole. Those well-off parents who value education will put their kids in school. I want to believe this is the majority of cases. Now, what to do with the margins. Some folks will be unable to afford school, but charities such as non-profits and churches can offer scholarships to many of these. I’m sure other philanthropic ventures would be created to assist the needy. No need for state intervention through taxation.
Under this scenario, I believe education would look very different. First, it would be slimmer, focusing more on teachers/students and less on administration. Would a school bus armada exist? Not sure, but not to the extent we have now. School sports would take on a different shape too. Maybe we wouldn’t have school-sponsored sports.
I’m sure there are some problems I have overlooked. We can talk about them as they are brought up (this of course assumes someone will read this and take time to comment). On balance, I believe the potential for higher quality education exists under this scenario. However, I’m sure the administrators and teacher’s union beg to differ.