by Jeffry R. Fisher

If you have read through the other essays, then you have seen how and why a private (and unfettered) education system would be vastly superior to our current socialism. However, you may yet be wondering how best to get from the tragic condition we currently suffer to the liberty we know we deserve.

The Case for Avoiding Turbulence

If you already strongly support privatizing education, you may be willing to junk the current system and jump directly to something completely different. While I'll agree that that's better than defending what we have, I think that transitioning smoothly would be preferable. Consider these reasons:

So, how do we make the transition with minimal disruption for those going through it?

Strategic Key

The abstract key to smooth transition is a principle I learned in quantum mechanics at UC Berkeley: matching boundary conditions. That means that our transition plan, to be a smooth adaptation, should look much like the current conditions at the near end and mostly like our desired conditions at the far end. Therefore, if we want to avoid turbulence, then we want to think of a series of incremental rules changes that connect the two end points.

One Plan

Here's one possible transition path that would lead to progressive subsidies (saving money at the high end):

  1. Year one: School district (or state) offers $1000 per head per year to anyone who can take their kid (currently in public school) into private ed. Since $1000 is much less than what is spent in public school, each family who takes the offer will leave money on the table for the kids who remain. Class sizes get smaller, teachers get paid more, equipment gets better.

    This deal is only slightly different than the current arrangement in which the very wealthy can send their kids to private schools if they pay for the whole thing themselves. By offering $1000, many more less-wealthy families will be able to afford private education. For some reason I can't fathom, teachers and their unions are opposed, possibly because this "thin edge of the wedge" would expose their most embarrassing short comings, when parents, even poor ones, accept a paltry $1000 and flee from a free service in droves.

  2. The next year, the district offers $2000 to anyone whose family income fits some qualifying formula. The formula could be as simple as "Less than $50,000 per year" or it could factor in size of household, accumulated savings, etc. The formula is a separate issue to be hammered out in each state and/or district. A few families from the prior year will get an increased subsidy, and some new families will take the deal. Because $2000 is still way below what any district spends per pupil, money is still being concentrated among those who stay in.

  3. A couple years later, the district offers $4000 per year to those who qualify for a tighter formula. $4000 is close to what some states spend per pupil now, but after the distillation of the first two phases, it will certainly be less. Therefore, the concentration of funds will continue to increase in the remaining public schools.

    Speaking of which, when enough kids leave for greener pastures, districts will be able to auction off whole schools to private companies to recover big bucks. Most communities have no idea how much capital they have tied up in their neighborhood schools. Vast debts could be retired (replaced by commercial debt and stock equity) as the schools convert.

    Not only that, but as the system shrinks, administration must be forced to shrink. The bureaucrats will scream bloody murder and come up with all kinds of pitiful justifications for their phony baloney jobs, but they must be cashiered.

    The offices needed to handle quarterly enrollments, disbursements, and auditing will be a tiny fraction of what exists today (indeed, what we need today is already much less than what we have). We should treat the bureaucrats like royalty... after studying the French revolution.

  4. Iterate a couple more times at $6000 and $8000, possibly adding bonuses for certain disabilities if we must. Eventually, public "schools" will handle only the kids who are too messed up to fit in anywhere else. Government would act only as a safety net of last resort, its maximum proper function.

    These schools for extreme special ed will end up looking like hospital wards, mental wards, and prisons... wait a minute, many of our existing schools already look like that. Let's get as many kids out of them as soon as we can.


Instead of abrupt edges to subsidy amounts, design a continuous formula to grant a smooth range to avoid the irritation of "near misses".

The floor could be higher than $1000, and those already in private school could be granted a subsidy a year or two into the plan (there aren't that many out there anyway).

The time line is variable. Just arrange it so that the transition is smooth, not overturning the whole, huge system at one time and causing a disruption in services. Publish the timeline and invite qualifying families to subscribe well in advance so that private Ed companies can plan ahead to handle all of the kids who will be coming their way.

A provision should be made for home schoolers to buy computers, educational software, video instruction, books, flash cards etc. I am not sure whether or not home schooling parents should be able to pay themselves a stipend. I see the value in their work, but I also sense a conflict of interest. If you have some constructive thoughts on that question, please share.

Also note: We can even avoid the bureaucracy of issuing scholarships if we use tax credits instead. There could be a capped credit for one's own expenses plus some other credit for donations to schools or scholarship funds to benefit the poor. This has some other advantages, like making it more difficult for regulation to creep into the system. With tax credits, the government never actually touches the money, so it has even less of an excuse to regulate how it is spent. Furthermore, many of those involved would not be folks who can afford tax accountants, so there'd be even more pressure to keep the rules simple.

Almost everywhere in these essays that I tout some kind of spending, a tax credit might be devised to motivate the same redistribution. For more info on education tax credits, visit the Cato Institute.

What if we get stuck in the middle?

If politicians lose their nerve part way in and leave us with a hybrid system, then on the up side, at least those who are motivated to educate their children will be able to escape the miasma of those who aren't. Some socialists will complain that public schools will be sapped of their bright kids and "involved" parents. Get this: Our supposed goal is to educate children, not to hitch some of them up like beasts of burden to pull the others along.

On the other hand, if the full monetary offer is made and no private schools emerge in some locale (i.e. if all else fails), then nobody will abandon the existing public schools. They will continue as before with nothing changed. At least the escape hatch will motivate public schools to maintain quality. Therefore, there's something to gain merely by making the offer. However, if entrepreneurs don't show up to claim fat, juicy public scholarships with competitive educational services, then I'd take a close look at the strings attached. I'd suspect that the market wasn't really free.

Open Offer

If any school district whines about money, or even better, if a statewide education department whines, I'll gladly take over. Just grant me the latitude to pursue privatization (and the superintendent's salary) and I'll solve both the money woes and much more.

Do you hear me Oregon, with your shrinking school hours and collapsing calendar? Call me... Let me save education in your state while proving once again that capitalism and liberty can create prosperity that socialism can't even imagine.

Copyright 2003-2008 by Jeffry R. Fisher: Permission is granted to reproduce this article in whole, but only in combination with attribution, the original title, the original URL, and this copyright notice.
Jeffry R. Fisher is the founder and president of Propagate Ltd, which is liberating digital content as