Editor’s note: After redefinED posted Howard Fuller’s comments about universal school choice, we asked the Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson for a response, which we published last week. To keep the debate going, we asked Matthew Ladner, senior advisor of policy and research at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, for his take. He generously offered the following.
My friends Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson started a needed discussion regarding the direction of the parental choice movement. Dr. Fuller has been quite outspoken in his opposition to universal choice programs in recent years, and Coulson raised a number of interesting and valid points in his redefinED piece. The parental choice movement has suffered from a nagging need to address third-party payer issues squarely. It’s a discussion that we should no longer put off. The example of American colleges and universities continues to scream a warning into our deaf ear regarding the danger of run-away cost inflation associated with education and third-party payers.
Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson also indirectly raise a more fundamental question: where are we ultimately going with this whole private school choice movement? Dr. Fuller supports private choice for the poor and opposes it for others. He has concerns that the interests of the poor will be lost in a universal system. I’m sympathetic to Howard’s point of view. I view the public school system as profoundly tilted towards the interests of the wealthy and extraordinarily indifferent to those of the poor. We should have no desire to recreate such inequities in a choice system.
Andrew makes the case that third-party payer problems are of such severity that we should attempt to provide public assistance to the poor through a system of tax credits, and have other families handle the education of their children privately. Andrew’s proposed solution to the very real third-party payment issues is in effect to minimize third-party payment as much as possible, and to do it as indirectly as possible through a system of tax credits.
Despite the fact that Howard comes from the social justice wing of the parental choice movement and Andrew from the libertarian right, they agree that private choice should be more or less limited to the poor.
My own view is different from both Howard and Andrew’s. I believe the collective funding of education will be a permanent feature of American society and that it should remain universally accessible to all. I believe Howard’s real concerns over equity and Andrew’s real concerns over third-party payment can be mitigated through techniques other than means-testing.