Interview: Is school choice an ally of basic income?
The views expressed below and in the UBI Podcast do not necessarily express those of Basic Income Earth Network, or BI News.
While school choice and basic income advocates may not always see eye to eye, they may have more in common than they realize.
In my new UBI Podcast series, I interviewed Emily Runge, an education policy researcher for the Show-Me Institute. Runge advocates that the government provide parents more choice in how their children is educated, including providing families cash grants for education.
The way Runge described her advocacy for school choice parallels much of the rhetoric that basic income advocates use.
“The overlap that I see, is there’s a recognition that there are vulnerable populations and the status quo is working against them. And the way the government treats them, for example the public school system, is not always the best.”
The intention of school choice, Runge said, is to allow individuals to decide what is best for their families and children.
“With the school choice movement, and the Universal Basic Income movement, is we are empowering individuals, giving them more agency, and this is a more innovative way to deal with problems that we see,” she said.
Arizona recently signed into law America’s first ever universal education savings account (ESA) program. This system will eventually allow any student to apply for a state-funded savings account that can be spent on education services, including tuition, online services, tutoring, and education materials.
High school students can receive up to $5,000 per year in their ESA, and $4,600 is available for K-8.
For now, the number of students that can enroll in an ESA is capped at 5,500. Children with disabilities can receive a higher cash grant, depending on the services needed.
Runge said a universal ESA may be the ultimate goal, and other school choice offerings should also be pursued. In the meantime, Runge said that there are many good public schools that should be allowed to continue to operate.
The choice, she said, should be given to the parents not the government.
“Instead of children being assigned to a particular school, we advocate that money should follow the child,” she said.
As it stands, Runge said those with a lot of wealth can afford school choice, it is vulnerable and low-income populations that do not have the choice.
The intersection between poverty and education disparities is well known. And children of wealthy parents certainly have more opportunities for a superior education, simply because they have the cash to pay for these services.
Like basic income, an ESA has the potential to shift power from bureaucrats to individuals. There would still be conditions on the money, as ESA cash would necessarily be ear-marked for education, although the choices would be infinitely more for poor families in the status quo.
However, there are likely many basic income advocates that are skeptical of a cash-grant system when it comes to education. And there are likely many school choice advocates that are skeptical of no-strings attached cash grants to families.
Nonetheless, there should be more discussions between movements, such as basic income and school choice, on the areas that they overlap and how both can achieve their goal of empowering all families regardless of their background and situation.