Against education subsidies
[F]or decades, we’ve allowed students in need to get federally subsidized loans to attend both public and private colleges and universities. Some states, even provide scholarships and grants that can be used at private institutions of higher learning. So how is it that for years we’ve used public funds to support sending needy children to private schools and the public university system has yet to collapse under the weight of such anti-public measures? Nor has public support for public universities declined in the interim.
First of all, comparing our public education system at the elementary and secondary level to our system of public universities is a lot like comparing apples to arugula. Whereas public schools let anyone sign up and attend for free, public universities are still exclusive institutions, and charge a fee in order to attend.
Second, who says that all these loans and grants have actually benefited poor students? Many private institutions already had (and still have) their own scholarship programs for low-income students. There was no need for government’s to subsidize their tuition further. (Actually, many private schools have similar programs at the elementary and secondary levels….)
All that extra federal cash simply allowed public universities to keep raising their tuition higher and higher and higher over the years. That’s the thing about subsidies. The more you subsidize something, the more expensive it becomes.
Who’s to say private schools accepting vouchers wouldn’t simply start charging more for their tuition as well? I’d say that is a very likely outcome. Meanwhile, public schools – which don’t charge admission like public universities and which must accept every student who comes knocking – will have fewer resources at their disposal.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t rethink public schools. We might even find ways to make entire districts operate more like a batch of charter schools, with far more independence and autonomy and creative license. But providing subsidies to students will only make good education more expensive. It won’t necessarily destroy the public school system. But I don’t think it will help it much either.