The Daily Caller reported recently that a high school in Medina, Ohio has begun charging parents fairly hefty fees for various of the activities and extras that it offers, even for seemingly basic courses like Spanish I and Earth Science. Parents are upset, of course, believing that since they are already paying taxes they shouldn’t also have to pay these additional fees.
They have a point. Why should they have to pay twice? On the other hand, by that logic, why should people who do not send their children to public schools be required to pay the taxes to support them anyway? (The response “because public schools are a public good from which everyone benefits” fails, I believe, on both moral grounds and on empirical grounds, but that is a discussion for another day.)
In Medina, Ohio’s case, I would like to offer a qualified “Good!” The introduction of these fees will expose parents to more of the costs associated with running their school. Although those costs are almost certainly inflated, still as individual parents are asked to pay them for their own children, that will tend to level, ever so marginally, the playing field for other educational alternatives.
Right now all private schools face a significant competitive disadvantage because parents who choose to send their children to their schools must nevertheless still continue paying for the public schools. They have to pay twice. (Imagine someone arguing that because the United States Postal Service was so important to this nation’s [whatever], anyone who sends a package via UPS, FedEx, or any other private service must still pay a fee to the USPS—and the USPS will itself largely determine what that fee will be!) Because everyone in the district must pay the taxes, however, the costs are distributed among a much larger group of households than the actual number that have children in the system. Thus the costs to households using the service are subsidized by households not using them.
The introduction of user fees at the public schools will seem to affected parents much more personal. They will feel it directly, because they will have to write a check for it. This is a good thing. Not only will it help remind people that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but it may also help those parents who are considering a private option be able to do so. They might think, “If I have to pay $4,446.50 extra for my daughter to take Spanish I, Earth Science, and band, maybe I should just send her to the Catholic school we’d thought about anyway, whose annual tuition is only about $2000 more than that anyway.”
That might lead to competition, which would benefit everyone—public and private alike.
So while the fees in the Medina, Ohio case might well be buoying bloated budgets, benefits, retirement packages, etc., still a little competition spurred by a little personal responsibility can go a long way.