As a Libertarian, I believe that government should not force people to pay for other people’s education. My proposals here are much more limited: they are improvements that I think have some chance in the General Assembly.
Government spending on K-12 education has risen dramatically with no real improvement in outcomes. Libertarian-oriented policies will reduce the burden on taxpayers while improving service for students.
I support increased use of private schools and homeschooling, and expanded school choice for the students attending tax-funded public schools. Currently, education spending is about one-third of Virginia's state budget. I want to reduce state spending on education and to cut taxes accordingly. It’s up to the legislature to impose limits on spending for public schools, and not just pander to every cry for more spending “for the children.”
Most public school revenue comes from local taxes. If the state government’s K-12 budget is cut 10%, that will mean an average K-12 spending cut of about 4%. I recognize that a small cut will require some small sacrifices: slightly lower spending on facilities and sports, slightly lower total compensation for teachers and administrators, and slightly larger class sizes. No one ever likes to give up a penny, but I think a small cut will be easy to handle. If a school simply can’t handle it, it probably should be shut down or converted to a charter school.
Tax Credits and Vouchers
Currently, Virginia has an “Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program.” This program helps a small number of lower-income students, but it is limited to $25 million per year, which is less than 0.2 percent of Virginia’s public school expenditures. It’s far too little.
Tax credits and vouchers will make private school attendance affordable for more families, and will also reduce the burden on public schools. Tax credits and vouchers both reduce the burden on the state’s education budget, because the amount redirected to private schools per student is less than the current public school spending per student. (Private schools have a significantly lower expense per student than public schools.) More competition will reduce costs, foster innovation, and lead to schools that better satisfy students, teachers and parents.
Around 10% of students in Virginia already attend private schools.
Although I support tax credits and vouchers, I oppose using them as an excuse to increase government regulations on private schools. Some private schools and charter schools will have problems, just like many public schools do. Perfection is impossible, but private schools have the benefit of competition. Unlike most public schools, if a private school is serving a student badly, the student’s parents can choose a different one.
Different parents want their children to learn different things, in different ways. Government’s one-size-fits-all system causes fights over which textbooks to use, how much to focus on science and math versus arts and humanities, or whether to give religious instruction. We should expand school choice so parents can send their children to the schools that best reflect their values and priorities, and to allow students to escape from the worst teachers.
I support a 10% cut to state spending on colleges and universities.
I recognize that this will result in some sacrifices: sports and amenities budgets may have to be reduced slightly, academic compensation may have to be reduced slightly, and tuitions may have to be increased slightly.
Legislative Scorecard (from Libertarian Booster PAC)
In 2018, the Virginia Senate committee on Education and Health narrowly approved Senate Bill 516 to expand charter schools, but the bill died in the Finance committee. Virginia legislators have not shown much interest in allowing greater school choice. According to Ballotpedia, only 1,200 students attended charter schools in Virginia in 2016, compared to 82,000 in North Carolina. Charter schools are not ideal from a Libertarian perspective, but they generally lower the burden on taxpayers, and they usually perform better than standard public schools.
John Stossel: Private School Success Around the World
Cato: U.S. Charter Schools Produce a Bigger Bang with Fewer Bucks
BallotPedia: School Choice in Virginia
Virginia Institute for Public Policy: The Public Education Tax Credit: Expanding Educational Opportunity in Virginia
Mercatus Center: Government Policy and Tuition In Higher Education