Ban Private Schools

By Bob Gerecke
 
There are both strong moral and practical arguments for banning private schools and making the children of the rich and powerful attend public schools. 
 
From a purely strategic and practical point of view, it would be much easier to resolve the crisis in the hugely variable quality of our schools if the children of America’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens had their futures at stake.  Wealthy people tend to lobby effectively for their interests, and if their interests were to include adequate public funding for the schools their children attend, those goals, even down to such matters as air-conditioning and supplies, could be achieved without having to resort to unpleasant things like teachers’ strikes. 
 
How would we get the children of the wealthy and powerful into public schools?  Ban private schools!
 
This would, of course, be a radical step.  It would first involve transferring ownership of all existing private schools to the school district in which they are located, and then readjusting local tax schemes to capture the tuition parents currently pay.  The most recent figures I have (and they are not current) show that the nationwide average tuition for private non-college education is $8549 per student per year, which means for about 5.5 million students a total of $47 billion is spent each year on opting out of the public education system. 
 
Then access to the public schools would have to be distributed on some fair basis to local students, with the wealthy kids who don’t make the cut into their old schools being sent to the regular ones, the ones without air conditioning or libraries and so on.
 
Moreover resources would have to be redistributed within the school districts so that the resources formerly lavished on private schools would be spent shoring up the failing public ones.
 
This proposal is not original with me. Billionaire wise hobbit Warren Buffet once told school ‘reformer’ Michelle Rhee that the easiest way to fix schools was to “make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by lottery.”  In England, the notion of banning private education – while highly unlikely – has long been a part of political debate by major-party candidates.
 
Along with that practical argument for banning private schools – that it would have the effect of forcing school boards and municipalities to be accountable to their privileged elite as well as their poor families – there is also a moral argument for such a ban.  Put simply:  equality of opportunity demands that children should not be penalized or advantaged by the accident of their birth.  Educational benefits, which are the most crucial resource when it comes to determining the life-outcomes for children of all backgrounds, should not be distributed based on how rich your parents are.  They should be distributed equally (as nearly as we can achieve that).  Even if we stipulate that radical inequality is fine for adults – once you are out in the world, you rise of fall by the work of your own hands – when it comes to children, it is perverse to dole out education based on arbitrary circumstances completely beyond their control. 
 
That, however, is what private education does:  it allows parents to purchase better life-prospects for their children simply because they, the parents, can afford it.  (The real estate market and property-tax based funding for public schools do the same thing; being able to afford a home in a good school district, which is then funded by taxes levied on that valuable home, is structurally very similar to paying tuition for a private school.)
 
Of course, the act of raising children in a wealthy household is a form of purchasing them better life-prospects than children raised in a poorer home.  Attempting to equalize that dynamic would be impossible without unacceptable governmental intrusions into the child-parent relationship; that is a type of inequality we have to live with.
 
Education benefits, though, are something that we as a nation have long held should be afforded to all children, irrespective of their backgrounds.  We have further held that withholding access to those benefits based on race or ethnicity, in other words, on morally arbitrary circumstances over which the children have no control, is wrong.  Our current system of private and public education effectively distributes the best educations to those who were born into the right families.  To correct that, on both practical and moral grounds, requires banning private schools.