Vouchers and fancy private schools

Of course Sidwell Friends provides a better education than the DC public schools. It also costs several times as much per pupil. Anytime conservatives want to propose a voucher program at $30,000 per child, they’ll have my vote.

Barack Obama, the politician, doesn’t like the DC private-school-voucher plan.

Barack Obama, the father, sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends.

Megan McArdle sees a contradiction.

How come the Obama girls benefit from leaving the DC public school system? Surely, if it doesn’t make any difference, the Obama girls would do just as well in ordinary, democratic, thoroughly American public schools as in an elitist Quaker institution.

Well, no.

Any time libertarians want to replace public education with a voucher system under which each child gets a voucher that would pay the $30,000 annual tuition at Sidwell Friends, they’ll have my vote for it, and for the huge tax increase required to pay for it. Of course, even $30k wouldn’t really be enough to buy that style of education for current public-school students, since no doubt Sidwell Friends spends more than that per student, making up the difference with endowment earnings and annual giving.

It’s not surprising that Sidwell Friends outperforms the DC public schools, in part because it doesn’t have to accept all comers and can expel troublemakers. Maybe it’s unfair that rich folks like the Obamas can afford to pay for such a fancy education for their kids, and that by doing so they get to exempt their kids from the burden public-school students have of attending school with those who don’t want to be there and who disrupt the education of those who do want to learn.

But let’s not pretend that private-school voucher plans can provide Sidwell Friends for all the poor kids in the DC public schools. And since they can’t, I don’t see any contradiction between Barack Omaba’s belief that his daughters will get a better education at Sidwell than they would in the DC public schools and his belief that the private-school voucher system won’t, on balance, improve the education of DC pupils.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com