Mona Charen

Twenty-nine percent of Congressional Black Caucus members and 46 percent of Hispanic Caucus members send their children to private schools. In September 2003, despite vehement opposition from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and other supporters of the teachers unions, a voucher plan for the District of Columbia squeaked through the House of Representatives.

Florida's "A+" program provides that students in schools performing poorly in two out of four years get a voucher to attend a different public school or a private school. When the Manhattan Institute studied the effect of the program, it found that schools facing the lash of competition made much greater gains than schools permitted to plod on in the old way. A Harvard study of schools in Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin has found the same thing. Amazing! Competition works better than monopoly. Adam Smith: Call your office.

Opponents of the voucher idea rely primarily on the idea that private school tuitions are completely out of reach for most students' families. This would mean that the wealthiest or luckiest students would be "creamed" from the public schools, leaving the rest of the students mired in even worse conditions.

This argument not only fails to account for the competition effect mentioned above, but it further assumes that the public schools are starved for funds, while private schools are serving sirloin steak on white tablecloths in the lunchroom. In fact, while some famous private schools (like St. Albans, where Al Gore went, or Sidwell Friends, which Chelsea Clinton attended) are extremely expensive, most are not.

The Cato Institute looked at prices of private schools in a number of cities around the country and compared their tuitions with what the government spends on education. In the District of Columbia, for example, the government spends $11,009 per pupil. Forty-five of the District's private schools charged less than that per year, and 39 charged $5,000 or less.

In Houston, annual per-pupil spending by the city and state is $7,098. But 119 of the area's 144 private schools charge less, and 90 percent charged $5,000 or less. In Denver, the government spends $9,919 to educate each pupil per year. Only six of the city's 91 private elementary schools charge that much. The median private tuition is $3,528.

Eventually, common sense will prevail. For the sake of the kids, let's hope it starts in 2004.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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