Public schools, private goods

Salim Furth writes,

we do not, in the suburbs, have a system of public schools. We have private, government-run schools. A public good is something available to all—non-excludable and non-rival in consumption, like clean air or a radio broadcast. But access to local school is eminently excludable: those who do not buy or rent a home in the right area cannot access it. And it is at least somewhat rivalrous in consumption, since crowding and peer effects play such a large role, at least in the perception of educational quality.

He says that universal school vouchers are a political non-starter.

The two most stable organizing principles of the political economy of the American family in the twenty-first century are that educational access is purchased with one’s home, and that established suburbs do not change their character.

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9 Responses to Public schools, private goods

  1. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    1. “educational access is purchased with one’s home”

    2. “and that established suburbs do not change their character”

    #1 Definitely true.

    #2 False, it seems to me. It appears that a suburban neighborhood either declines or becomes more highly desired and expensive over time. Either way, the character changes significantly in just a fraction of a generation.

    • asdf says:

      It depends on the suburb. One of the biggest trends in the last few decades has been the pushing out of inner city blacks by gentrification and their relocation to “inner ring suburbs”. This can cause a drastic change in character ala Feurgerson, MO (I can think of a few places around my own city like this, and have seen it happen to a few friends).

      Some of the racism hysteria is about preventing the middle class families in these suburbs from being able to defend their schools and neighborhoods from this phenomenon, which clearly benefits urban professionals at their expense. The middle class, already often taking huge loses on houses they owned in the city when crime spiked and they left, effectively defended itself against school busing in the 1970s but that is now being overturned by physically moving people.

      This is also tied in with HUD and other housing benefits which are increasingly used to move people to the suburbs (they call them “opportunity zones” in Baltimore).

      Real estate is all about figuring out where the worst will move (and avoiding it) while figuring out where they will move away from (any buying early).

      The areas least effected appear to be the outer suburbs (too far from public transit), which seem to have kept their character steady over time. But that’s a heck of a commute.

      Since “good schools” are mostly about keeping out “bad kids”, we would all benefit immensely from simply being able to expel or deny “bad kids” at any particular school. Maybe just set up a special “school” that we all know if daycare to keep them off the streets. This would be wonders for the real estate market as it would dramatically lower the housing price necessary to exclude problem children.

      We need a way to discriminate on something other then price, its highly inefficient. Until then expect things to stay as they are.

      Articles blaming people for defending their homes and communities, are completely counterproductive. They assume that their “good schools” are something the UMC are hoarding away from brown people. In reality their good test scores are just the good genetics of the children in those schools, and trying to “share the opportunity” with lesser would merely wreck the entire school. Peer groups are a zero sum game. Negative sum if you think bad apples are particularly bad for those around them.

      Charters will only ever be of interest to higher then average IQ city residents in bad districts they can’t get out of (which actually includes lots of brown kids) and specialized magnet schools for the IQ>130 set whose parents aren’t rich yet (mostly Asian). Basically, they are a way for people who are superior to those they share a geographic area with, and who can’t move to another geographic area, to leave the mediocre behind, just like the people in the suburbs did by moving to the suburbs. The article misses this point because lots of charters are full of brown kids with mediocre test scores, but mediocre is good compared to control group, and its mainly about the fact that the children themselves are more disciplined and behaved then their public school cousins.

      “Would a choice-based paradigm lead to even more refined segregation?”

      “It would make schools more like colleges: competitive, service-focused, and obsessed with ranking.”

      Harvard has a 4% admissions rate and its ranked #1. It’s not hard to figure out what would happen…and then it would be made illegal because its racist. But if it would simple be allowed to be, if public schools could refuse service on the same basis as colleges, it would be a good thing (but would do nothing about inequality).

  2. A Leap at the Wheel says:

    “established suburbs do not change their character.”
    I disbelieve. It doesn’t look like there is any evidence presented to back up this claim, is there?

    • Asdf says:

      I think he’s referring to a specific subset of high profile zips on the coasts. I can think of several in my own state. Middle class inner ring suburbs do often change though

    • Moo cow says:

      Right. The whole rust belt is filled with established suburbs that did indeed change their character from about 1980 to 1990 or so.

  3. Seth says:

    “…and that established suburbs do not change their character.”

    Just give it about a generation.

    Some may not change. In my area, these tend to be the upper middle class to wealthy areas where the kids go to private schools and, shockingly, there are some great private schools in those areas.

    As for the other burbs, they change because of competition and incentives. Once a burb runs out of develop-able land, they lose the incentive to maintain high quality schools since it has established its tax base and attracting new residents doesn’t increase its budget.

    In the meantime, nearby burbs that have plenty of develop-able land are trying to increase their tax base by offering high quality schools.

    However, I think schools is just one part of the competition. Amenities of new homes and neighborhoods also drive the competition.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      More housing (especially multi-bedroom apartments) tends to increase the spending for schools more than it increases the tax base. It is a net fiscal loser. Non-residential development does the opposite. Though it threatens to make the place less desirable to live (more traffic, noise, ugly buildings). Local jurisdictions want high value, low footprint non-residential development–or something that can be located away from where most people live.

  4. This is kind of nuts. As asdf mentions, thousands of suburban public schools over the years have been forced to accomodate and support all sorts of families that weren’t originally part of their planned community. There are very, very few areas that can entirely prevent influxes. And those schools don’t take much money from the local government.

    As for their static nature, any number of schools end up with declining population that forces them to bring in less than desirable students from other locations.

    As I understand universal vouchers, they are intended for private schools. But public or private, universal vouchers are indeed a non-starter. Why he thinks this is new information, I dunno.

  5. So I just went and read the piece to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. No, a whole bunch of “this has all been said many times before”, written in a very portentous voice. And where it’s original, it’s usually wrong.

    By the way, I wrote about the charter demographics here

    He misses the fact that charters are quite popular in certain suburbs, and that’s because this would utterly destroy his entire thesis. Charters are popular where suburbs can’t control their population. They are a way for upper middle class parents to bootstrap a private school using public funds, thus limiting the amount of brown and poor children their own kids will have to experience. Wrote about that here: Parental Diversity Dilemma.

    One last thing: he’s utterly wrong that charters would ultimately be better. They certainly wouldn’t be cheaper, and they’d kick off a massive teacher shortage. We’re already experiencing one.

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