School funding

I love The Economist magazine. Perhaps its my politics, (left of centre on social issues, in favour of market solutions on economic issues), or perhaps its the good writing. Or maybe its just the only adult magazine that generally covers the world.

One thing that has been bugging me lately is its view of school funding. Basically, the Economist’s general view (and its hard to point to one article that encapsulates it) is that the best way to fund schools is to allow the money to follow the child. In other words, you figure out how much it costs to educate a child for a year (say $10,000), and pay that money to any school that the government approves as following the curriculum. Given my general approval of market based solutions to things, it feels like I should approve it.

The trouble is, Australia is probably the system closest to this at present. And the outcomes are perverse. We don’t go the whole way. Poor private schools get around 80% of state schools per child. Rich schools get more like 20%. In total, in NSW, private schools get 63% per student of what state schools get. (A lobby group’s report). And the consequence is that children who go to private schools end up having more money spent on their education than children who go to state schools (115% according to that same report). Let’s make a leap of faith and say that spending more money improves the education.

So in the end, the consequence is that rich kids get a better education. And if the system was totally voucher based, then rich kids would get a substantially better education.

And as that becomes clearer, state schools lose pupils, and the scale that helps them give good educations. They also lose the educated, richer parents, who have the skills to lobby for good state educations. Those educated, richer parents start lobbying for the funding to follow their kids (as has happened more and more in the past 10 years) and the state system starts being a last resort for those who can’t afford better.

And poor kids, immigrant kids, with the capabilities to use their education much better than (say) Rodney Adler, have less chance to experience educational opportunities.