Education Letter to the Editor

U.S. Education Has No ‘Open Marketplace’

April 19, 2005 1 min read

To the Editor:

As an educator, I appreciate a vivid imagination. I suppose the fact that Walt Gardner’s inference that the United States has an “open education marketplace” was published near the first of April (“Even the Finest Schools Sometimes Fail to Survive,” Letters, March 23, 2005) may have caused many readers to dismiss it, appropriately, as an early April fool’s day joke.

The country’s K-12 system is anything but an open education marketplace. Starting a private school means you have to be able to sell something for thousands of dollars per year that has a widely available substitute (the public school system) that charges no tuition, but collects as much as $10,000 per child per year to support its operation. That our system forces nonpublic schools to sell something that well-funded, well-established public school competitors are giving away is a huge contradiction of “open marketplace.”

That any private schools achieve such an economic miracle is powerful evidence of how little $10,000 per child per year buys through the public school governance and funding process. About 10 percent of families decline an expensive service they have already paid for through their taxes to instead pay tuition for much less well-funded private school services.

Profits are another key feature of a marketplace, yet only about 2 percent of private schools are for-profit. To survive against “free” competition generally requires below-cost tuition possible only with donations, usually in the form of church subsidies.

John Merrifield

San Antonio, Texas