Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan: Competition Improves Everything

Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan: Competition Improves Everything

Education is far too important for parents to leave in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. While I want to assume that most of the elected officials in Raleigh have children’s best interest at heart, a centralized education system cannot possibly meet the diverse needs of the children in North Carolina.

A Vision

I have a vision for education. I see each county in NC having scores, maybe hundreds, of new small businesses – each striving to win customers by providing the value those customers want: a quality, comprehensive education. I see parents researching their options (something like a Consumer Reports for education) and debating whom to reward with their patronage. I see innovative newcomers entering the market trying to win customers with ideas and enthusiasm.

There is no reason, outside of the government’s need for control, for schools to have 1,000 or 2,000 or even 3,000 students. My vision is schools in storefronts, schools in churches, schools in office spaces, and all are financed by the same sort of folks who now build our bakeries, dairies, auto repair shops, churches, etc.

There will be schools requiring uniforms and schools without such restrictions. There will be all-girl, all-boy, and co-educational schools. Some schools will focus on math and science; others will have special music programs; some will specialize in computers; some will market to an agricultural base. In short, there will be every kind and variety of education that the market will bear.

(Variety: the “market” near my home provides me with the choice of 36 kinds of vinegar. I know. I took time to count them. I love America!)


All schools teach values. (Indeed, all adults around children do!) Some schools teach it openly, others by omission. The question is not what kind of values should be taught; the question is who should choose. When you ask the right question, the answer is easy: parents should choose.

Prayer in schools can be a very divisive issue. It always will be, so long as schools are run by bureaucrats, even local bureaucrats. Who wants a bureaucrat planning a prayer? They will either pander to the local majority religion (and offend all others), or they will be so politically correct and “inclusive” that they destroy the meaning.

But what if schools are independent of government, choosing what they teach based on the demands of their customers? Then prayer in school is no more controversial than prayer in church. With parents making the choices, the values taught in schools can be almost as good as those taught at home.

Does Choice Mean Vouchers?

Vouchers have received most of the “Choice School” press. Vouchers are fairly simple, not too different from food stamps. Politically, vouchers have a lot of pluses.

I’m sure that vouchers would be great, at least for their first few years. But vouchers do have one serious flaw: it’s the government’s money.

No, it’s not really the government’s money. It comes from taxpayers, after all. But politicians certainly act like it’s their money. They can’t resist trying to control people through the money they can dish out. I’m afraid that the temptation for politicians will be too great. Over time, little by little, politicians will impose regulations, restrictions, red tape, limits, “direction,” and bureaucracy. They always have the best of reasons, of course, correcting some “problem” that has made news, but with the result that the independence of the system gradually disappears.

I have a better plan.

The Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan (TCSP)

The practical effect of a voucher program is to have politicians dole out taxpayers’ money to students to pay for education. My question is, why not let the taxpayers direct their education dollars themselves?

The TCSP amounts to a tax credit. In practice, it means that a taxpayer has a choice to make about his or her state tax liability, be it twenty dollars or $20 million: who should get it? They can send it to Raleigh as usual for the bureaucrats and politicians to spend on current government schools.

Or, they can dedicate that money to a scholarship (or several scholarships) for students in North Carolina for primary or secondary education. My plan calls for a credit of up to $3,000 per student, but the amount will be negotiable when we get the legislature debating on how to implement the program.

Taxpayers would have three ways to choose:

  1. Direct the scholarship to a particular student.
  2. Give to a particular school, where students are signed up for the scholarships.
  3. Give to a charitable organization, which will find the students.

I suspect taxpayers will overwhelmingly choose the scholarship plan. We will run out of students before we run out of taxpayers wanting to exercise this new right.

Once again, the taxpayer could choose the TCSP instead of paying taxes to Raleigh.

How Much Would Education Improve?

The great thing about competition is that it’s not so much a plan as an environment that fosters and rewards innovation, enthusiasm, and energy. Competition is not “an improvement”; it’s a process of continuing improvement. Thus there is no limit to how good our schools can become.

The public schools will benefit too. Many students and teachers will remain in the public system for the foreseeable future. But competition benefits everybody; the pressure of a possible shrinking domain will cause public employees, almost as much as those in the private sector, to strive harder, experiment more, and reward excellence.

The material abundance provided by America’s free market is the envy of the world. We should expand it to include the most important service of education.

There are three good reasons to believe that educational opportunity will be more broadly available with the Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan (TCSP):

  • TCSP empowers people, not politicians and bureaucrats, to make decisions. No system is perfect, but on the whole, people are better than the politicians they elect and far better than bureaucrats at deciding what products meet their individual needs.
  • The option to taxpayers to control their money, instead of just pay, will be very enticing to people. That’s in addition to the natural charitable instinct. I’m sure we’ll find that there is more money offered than students to be found.
  • Parental involvement is one of the strongest indicators of educational success. My TCSP requires a choice from parents. Making choices is the foundation and stimulus for involvement.

Excellence and More Excellence

Our great nation provides food, clothing, and shelter in great abundance for its people through a market economy. (Most people don’t realize just how rich we are when compared with the rest of the world.)

We can and should lead the world in education. A proven model is all around us. Help me bring the benefits of free market competition to the service of education.

  • Tim

    Excellent plan!

  • Culley

    I am undecided as to my vote for NC governor. I had some important questions on education that could help me decide…To start, would allowing tax payers to direct their taxes to certain students or a particular school over another lead to the financially endowed only investing in their own, providing the wealthy with the better schools/teachers/technology/textbooks? Secondly, regarding the “storefront” idea for schools. Is the gist of the idea to, largely, privatize education to the liking of the parent? My concern is whether or not this would essentially erase diversity in schools as well as expose students to fewer ideas and points of view. The point of education is to challenge preconceived notions (not to coddle them), learn how to weigh the evidence, and develop the cognitive skills to decide things on ones own. My concern is privatizing education to the level suggested would shift the focus of education from educating students to placating the ideologies of the parent. Any further information you could provide or clarify would certainly help this voter. My last question is whether or not you can clarify how public schools would benefit from this plan. If a child is left in public school it would mean the parent probably didn’t have the money to buy into one of the private schools. Only the lower classes will be stuck in public schools with a diminishing revenue as the wealthy pull their kids out. Also, teachers will apply to the private schools in droves. The teachers left at public school are likely to be the teachers with no experience or the ones with spotty records, basically the ones the private schools turn away will be the ones that will be teaching public school. In short and to summarize, how does your education plan enrich diversity and how does your education plan make sure that the lower classes get the same caliber of education as their wealthy counterparts?

    • Currently, there are numerous donations made yearly to numerous K-12 and college programs in the form of scholarships, many to publicly funded institutions, many of which benefit low-income students. The idea that those scholarship donations (which are now given even in spite of the fact that the donors are currently ALSO paying taxes that fund said institutions) would simply dry up is illogical. If wealthy donors are willing to donate now, while being additionally taxed, why would they decide to stop donating under Barbara’s plan? There is ever reason to believe that they would continue their charitable donations or even increase them if the government is not demanding additional taxes on top of what they are already donating. People are generally more willing to give their time and money of their own volition, than they are when they are forced to.

      As for your assertion that education’s goal should be to give young people critical thinking skills so that they can evaluate issues and think for themselves, I would agree. Unfortunately, as a parent of two children in the public school system, I can tell you that very little of that goes on in public schools. Public schools have become institutions that promote a very limited world view to students and they discourage free thought, descent and critical thinking as a matter of policy. They stifle innovation in the classroom by ensuring that teachers stick to a rigid curriculum and “teach to the test” rather than allowing teachers to use their own creativity and passion to inspire and educate students. Your worries that privatization will result in a shift in the focus of education from educating students to placating the ideologies of the parent may be valid to some degree, but in the end, it is not the government’s job to take over the role of parents and decide what sort of education their children receive. In all honesty, I think that it’s clear from the escalating cost of public education vs the stagnation (and even lowering in many areas) of educational quality and graduation rates that what we have been doing for the last 30 years or so, just really isn’t working. Why shouldn’t we try something new? If it fails, we can always go back to doing it the way we have been for the last few decades. I, personally, am fully in favor of a a more free-market approach to education though, because as competition increases, costs go down and that will benefit all students no matter what their income level may be.

  • freeenterpriseguy

    Culley’s statist reasoning is the why our schools continue to decline.

  • Culley

    regarding freeenterpriseguy, yes, of course that’s it, if only linear logic didn’t have to be accounted for, our schools would be doing just great, huh? My point has been beautifully illustrated by “freeenterpriseguy”. Schools are supposed to help challenge students and their ability to reason. Instead of reasoning a response to my concerns, they were ignored for a less-than-stellar dig. I would like to see the general level of education rise above predictable retorts when articulating points of view, which, no doubt, requires diversity and diverse points of view. I really have no agenda here. I am a voter. I have concerns. I am interested in the Libertarian party and candidate but would appreciate more info (the desire to be as informed as possible before voting should be respected, not diminished) on issues that concern me. Any logical, statistical, factual information elaborating this plan on education or clarifying any concerns would actually greatly be appreciated. I am open minded and it does not take quips or retorts to get me to consider new things so feel free to enlighten…

  • ImSupposedToBeWorking

    @Culley, I saw your concerns and share them. without trying to offer too many facts, I would say that they apply equally well to a school system that is bureaucratically based instead of market based. For example, wealthier suburbs generally do have better schools that in poorer urban or rural areas. Why is this? In the current system (in my state which is not NC – I came hear to read about the TCSP idea) if you live a few hundred yards from one district border you can’t just choose to transport your child to another school as your current district just keeps your taxes. I happen to have one child who is not being well served in the public school where I live, but as I cannot afford a private school AND my local school taxes both, I have to consider moving or taking out a mortgage for my youngest’s benefit. It would be much easier to have the right to have my choices be portable which the market will happily oblige. There is absolutely no reason any school needs a “district” – talk about preconceived notions that need to be challenged.

    As to the question of diversity, I would think that anyone concerned about diversity should be very concerned about any system run via a centralized bureaucracy. It seems self evident to me that that the only way to true diversity is to allow more individual choice. (and at least up to a certain age, that would presumably be the parents deciding for their children) Central consensus enforced bureaucratically might get you the false diversity of “separate but equal” but it won’t get the vibrant and freewheeling diversity that the market leads to. Some students will have parents that have ideas you may believe foolish or even harmful, and in a diverse system the set of outcomes will be diverse enough to include the occasional epic failure, but if you accept diversity is desirable, in the end this is a stronger system than a “one idea fits all” approach which I would contend is where most state oriented systems are at.

    Lastly, if people leave one school for another in a market based system, your concern that the “lower classes’ will be left behind in the worse schools is valid. But again, this concern is to some extent true in the current system – poor kids are not as well served as rich kids because the rich parents can and do opt out already. If giving more people the ability to opt out is a problem, IMHO its a better problem that keeping everyone in the same failing system.

    anbyway, goota stop as


  • q