Friday, January 23, 2009

School rentseeking 

Mitch writes about proposal in the Minnesota Legislature to scale back or end the charter school program in the state. Mitch quotes this article, which ends with the following paragraph:
Legislators are likely to propose freezing the number of new charters. In part, that's in response to criticism that charters suck students, and the state money that comes with them, out of the regular schools. Also, such a freeze could save money. According to House figures, the state spent more than $69 million last year and this year providing aid to charter schools to rent building space.
Mitch's emphasis included in that quote, who notes the outflow of students and their parents from St. Paul and Minneapolis schools.

Complaining about charters sucking money out of "regular schools" (read: government schools) is like complaining about WalMart "sucking money" out of "mainstreet businesses." Our answer to that has always been 1) consumers save money; 2) small business should learn to compete. Having government regulate charter schools is like, well, having main street business owners on the town planning commission ... which happens about everywhere. We more easily recognize it in the latter case as rent-seeking behavior.

As regards $69 million in renting building space: if all of those students went back into a government school, wouldn't they clamor for more buildings and pass more bonding referenda? You see the $69 million going to charter schools for rental. What you don't see is the $69 million or more or less that doesn't get spent buying more public school space. The good economist sees both.

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