Consumer Driven Education Policy

Why effective K-12 education policy requires voluntary association through free markets

“Don’t these kids have school today?”

As tourists in poorer countries, we are initially startled, then disturbed, and remain haunted by the number of kids not in school- instead out shining shoes or selling gum. 

The impression that our society would provide and expect educational opportunities for all children isn’t contentious.

We do appreciate a collective societal vision of childhood focused on childhood– centered on education and exploration leading toward eventual adulthood focused on adulthood.

We don’t appreciate a “collective societal vision” for our own specific children.

Each parent has their own vision and description of what a fitting education demands and provides- most often varying among their own children. 

Current education policies attempt to force collective and individual visions to exist within the same classroom and lesson plan.

The strife inside a simultaneous global and local public education paradigm becomes apparent when considering the following contemplations:

  1. Does my child have a right to an appropriate education?


  1. Do I have a right to an appropriate education for my child?

At first glance, some might find that to be a needless distinction:

“Yes, other kids have a right to an appropriate education, and “Yes,” I have a right to an appropriate education for my kids.”

However, when no parent draws a distinction, there is no pool of “other” kids left, only each parent’s own specific kid- with each parent’s own specific vision of what a proper education would look like for that kid.

If one imagines education policy as a collective endeavor shared between society and individual families, what is the ratio of that influence?

Is it 30% what other people think is best for the kid combined with 70% of what his parents consider appropriate? 

Even if one believed it was 50% what society thinks is best for the kid and 50% what his parents think is best, then who casts a tie-breaking vote?

In practice, parents don’t relinquish control to a blind faith in collective society. Instead, they research the parameters of education options and work within them toward the specific desires they have for their specific child.

Parents remain in jobs they don’t like and buy homes in neighborhoods they can barely afford to exert whatever influence they can.

It could begin to feel like one has to learn how to “work the system” to get the outcome they want.

One might ask why the process of redeeming a guaranteed opportunity funded by their own taxes could feel contrived.

Returning to the question:

Does a child have a right to an appropriate education, or does a parent have a right to an appropriate education for their child?

The direction a person leans on that question parses out two completely different philosophical expectations on the role of government.

Each expectation is fair to hold, but antithetical to each other and impossible to fully honor within the same organization. 

Why are we trying to?

Two Understandable Yet Incompatible Emphases

Emphasis #1 – Every Child has a Right to an Appropriate Education

This person is most enthusiastic about society’s responsibility to provide education to all students. Their desires are realized through increased government involvement, regulation and spending.

Faith is in government and collective society, so energy focuses on broader policy. 

Society is trusted to hire education experts who know what is best for its children and their collective bargaining results in the best educational outcomes possible within the confines of currently allocated funds.

The teacher hired through this process could be compared to a cardiologist. A person with expertise far beyond what is typical for the parents of the child.

While the anxious parent might want to stand beside his daughter in the operating room, making sure the anesthesiologist is licensed and the surgeon washes his hands, it could be argued that such oversight is counterproductive and even dangerous. Best to leave it to the experts.

This would follow with 2021 Virginia Governor candidate Terry McAuliffe, who received over a million votes and said the following:

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Again, he said that, and over a million people voted for him. There is no reason to think that any of those one million people would not have the best intentions for educational policy.

Emphasis #2– Every Parent has a Right to an Appropriate Education for Their Child 

This person is most enthusiastic about their responsibility to provide an education for their child. This may be achieved through very local political involvement. However, many in this category would not hold the government or society to any ultimate responsibility for the education of their child. 

Most people in this philosophical leaning support collective funding of education in the same sense that they support it to construct public highways. Like any funding for public works, there might be times that person would support a toll bridge versus a blanket tax increase.

Rather than looking for more government involvement, this person wants as little as possible- essentially viewing their children’s education as something they may or may not choose to subcontract out, and then only to teachers who support what the parents want to be taught.

And like the one million people who voted for Terry McAuliffe above, there is no reason to believe that the other million who didn’t would not have the best intentions for educational policy.

Two very different “best intentions” but no reason both can’t exist for those who want them.

Over the last decade, both political parties have favored “Consumer Driven” models of health care delivery, designing policies that encourage increased access through competition and made possible by transparency.

Since 2008, our country has seen a 625% increase in Health Savings Account (HSA) membership. The high deductible model encourages the consumer to “shop around” among choices on the free market, leaving decisions to the consumer.

Those medical benefits are distributed to the kids through the parents. Even kids as old as 26.

Parents appreciate options; for example, the ability to switch to a local doctor, or even keep the old doctor in the town they moved from.

Some people believe in homeopathic alternatives or chiropractic care instead of surgery or traditional medication.

Health Insurance Companies encourage HSA plans because spending real dollars gives ownership in decisions and outcomes. 

HSA’s for Health Insurance, ESA’s for Education

The same choice of service and ownership of outcome found in Health Care through HSA’s comes to Education through ESA’s (Education Savings Accounts).

An Education Savings Account gives parents access to education funds that can be spent on approved education products and services.

Like the HSA, this “Consumer Driven” model of education encourages increased access through competition made possible by transparency.

Well-intentioned individuals can have entirely different philosophies on what constitutes an appropriate education for their own children. 

Through voluntary association created by free markets, Education Savings Accounts honor each parent’s “best intentions.”

Patrick Downey, Ed.S.
Patrick Downey Ed. S. holds licenses in School Teaching, School Counseling, School Administration, and School Bus Driving- having split his 20-year education career in public and private schools. Mr. Downey lives in southern Indiana with his wife and five children- who attend both public and private schools.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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