#192 School Choice

"The Christian Economist" with logo and a closeup of a dollar bill in the background

School Choice: The rich already have the choice to send their children to any school they want.  The poor should have the same choice.


The rich should have a choice that the poor do not have. Really?! Think about it: The rich already HAVE school choice; they can send their kids to any expensive school they choose, but poor kids don’t have that choice. Shouldn’t we give them that choice?

We live in Texas, where our legislature is trying to decide what to do about school vouchers. To a Christian Economist, this is pretty simple. As an economist, I think people should have the freedom to send their children to a school of their choice. As a Christian, it certainly seems like a person should be free to choose Christian education over secular education. So who disagrees with that? People who want power.

They want power, not only over your decision but over the dollars you pay in taxes. First, they forcefully extract tax dollars from you, then when you want to direct the use of those dollars, they want to spend them on two monopoly providers. More on that in a minute.


The Poor Will Always Be With You

Jesus said that, because He knew we would not be able to keep the Biblical commandments to run a Biblical Economy. The school voucher issue is simply another example of it. People should be as free as possible to choose religious education over secular education. If people were better educated, production would increase, and our country would be richer. The productivity equation, after all, is what determines a country’s wealth.

“Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That’s from John 8:32, and it follows after a pretty interesting scripture as well. The preceding verse reads, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Oh, so teaching is pretty important to Jesus. So it’s through LEARNING that we find the truth. I don’t have the time today to deal with the philosophy of one truth or multiple truths, but don’t miss the point: The scripture clearly says THE truth shall make you free, the not truths, plural.

In podcast #163 Who Owns Education?), I quoted Oprah Winfrey saying, “Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.” Okay, so we’ve determined that people should have the freedom about how to unlock this key to freedom. I’ve often said, the intersection of Christianity and Economics is freedom. I guess that’s poignantly true in this podcast.



There are two monopolies at work here:
The first one is quite obvious. Public schools don’t like to compete with private schools. They’re happiest when they have a monopoly on education in your town.

I’m an academic, and one of the basic ideas is that no one knows it all. That’s why most academics study at various universities and then join the faculty at another university where they didn’t study. I’ve attended ten universities.

But why? Why didn’t I get all my education at the same place? Because, no one and nothing, not even a University, has all the answers. You have to study broadly to gain different views of the world.

When I started teaching Economics, I would teach Macro one semester, then Micro the next. My friend and co-author Sergiy Saydometov did the same thing. But that meant they either had two classes with me and none with Sergiy, or the opposite. But then, I camped on Macro, and he camped on Micro, specifically so that our students at Dallas Baptist University were forced to hear economic views from two different angles. That’s how you build a market for information.

In contrast to the previously cited market where the intellectual capital of various people is poured in, the fallen nature always wants to reduce that market to a monopoly, and that’s what we have in lots of public education today.

The school superintendent who complains about resources being moved from their monopoly to a competitive environment is wearing shoes that were bought in a competitive environment. The computer on their desk and their car in the parking lot were bought in a competitive environment. Yet, they support TWO monopolies: First, is the public school, and the second is the monopolized teachers’ union that supplies labor to it.

This second monopoly is perhaps even more devious than the first. The largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, spent twice as much on political donations as on serving their members, in a recent year. Which led the Washington Examiner to observe, “The NEA looks more like a political organization than a membership organization.” They make those donations to politicians, who, in turn, maintain their monopoly.

It’s no wonder that a suggested compromise to the school voucher system in Texas is an increase in teacher pay at the monopoly public schools. You see what’s going on here: Both sides of the public vs private debate are winning. Who’s paying the bill? Well, as I’ve often said, “The government has no money.” It has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is your tax dollars.

I point out in podcast #58 Why the US Can’t be Socialist like Sweden that every family in Sweden gets a voucher to send their children to a school of their choice. Why don’t we get that choice in Texas? Because of the two monopolies that I’ve just explained.


Competition is Good

God made a world with scarce resources and unlimited wants, so there’s going to be competition. The Christian Worldview contains three elements: Creation, fall, and redemption. Some people call it the “four-chapter gospel” and include restoration, meaning when Christ returns. When He does, we won’t compete. Until then, we’re in a time that is East of Eden and West of restoration, trying to figure out how to redeem the world’s resources in a way that God intended. Competition in education is certainly one of those ways.

Think about this: What if there was only one church? Well, our predecessors, before Martin Luther, had only one choice.

But then people “protested” and the Protestant Reformation soon produced the Lutheran church, then a cavalcade of denominations sprung forth. That’s good, isn’t it? In his book Gross National Happiness, Arthur Brooks says America is enriched by the competition for religion.  Then, we should be enriched by competition for education. And we are, where school choice exists.


Value of Education

The Economics textbook we use at Dallas Baptist University states that each year of education adds 10% to a person’s annual income. Now, that’s looking backward, into history for what’s sometimes called positive economics. Looking forward, normative economics says it should be maintained, but there’s no guarantee of that.

Tradesmen who get starting salaries of $75,000 might produce a market that draws some of those college students away from the classroom. Even though I supply higher education for a living, as an economist, I’m okay with the market working that way.


Christians and Education

Back to Martin Luther. By the way, in my view, the best book on the great reformer is titled Martin Luther, by Eric Metaxas. After surviving a skirmish with the Pope, Martin Luther was the victim of a friendly kidnapping. They took him to Wartburg Castle and hid him away, where his first task was education. Yep, he stayed hidden in the castle until he had translated the Latin Bible into German so the masses could read it. The room where he worked is open to the public.

You see, that’s another look at a monopoly: The Catholic church limited the reading of the Bible to only those who could read Latin. And, actually, for quite some time in the Middle Ages, it was against the law to own a copy of the Bible. You see how monopolies on education have been used to favor those who HAD the information, over those who were NOT ALLOWED to have it.

Why is there such a strong historical correlation between Christianity and education? I personally have taught at Dallas Baptist University, a Christian university, for thirty years. It’s because we believe the INDIVIDUAL must make the choice to accept or reject God’s invitation of salvation. To do so, the individual must understand the choice. They must be able to read the Scriptures for themselves. In contrast, subpar education is a requirement of totalitarian rule.

I like this quote by the aging comedian George Carlin, “Governments don’t want a population capable of critical thinking. They want obedient workers. People just smart enough to run the machines, and just dumb enough to passively accept their situation.”

That “situation” is the monopoly of public schools and the teachers’ union.

Fear God
Tell the Truth
Earn a Profit