Given the moral ideal of complete separation of school and state, and given the cultural and political realities opposing that ideal today, we who advocate a free market in education have our work cut out. One vital avenue toward a free market in education is parental school choice. But the mechanism for implementing school choice must itself be chosen carefully, or it will do more harm than good.
As I argued in “Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits,” tax credits are a sound mechanism toward free-market education because, if properly implemented, they sever the monetary tie between government and schools. School vouchers, on the other hand, are highly problematic because (among other reasons) they maintain that tie. In a voucher program, the government makes payments to voucher holders’ chosen schools, thereby granting government bureaucrats a say in what the schools teach and how they teach it.
Louisiana is a case in point. In 2012, the state instituted a voucher program. At that time, in “Louisiana's Voucher Plan to De-Privatize Private Schools,” I warned:
The plan is billed . . . as a “bold bid to privatize schools.” But this plan has nothing to do with privatizing schools. On the contrary, although the plan provides a measure of parental choice and school competition, on the whole it constitutes a substantial expansion of government intrusion into private education. The net effect of the plan will be to place any private school that accepts the vouchers at the beck and call of government dictates.
This is exactly what has come to pass.
As Jason Bedrick observes in “Regulating School Choice Reverses Its Benefits,” Louisiana private schools that accept voucher students “may not use their own admissions criteria, may not charge more than the amount of the voucher, and must administer the state test.” . . .