Voucher Bubbles


The American Prospect's weblog notes some reports of bad news from Milwaukee's voucher program:

One school that received millions of dollars through the nation's oldest and largest voucher program was founded by a convicted rapist. Another school reportedly entertained kids with Monopoly while cashing $330,000 in tuition checks for hundreds of no-show students.

This shouldn't be too surprising, but it does point to one of the potential problems with overselling vouchers as an instant panacea. The real advantage of a genuine market in education is about process, not time slices—about improvement through a longer-term filter process. At any given instant, a government run widget factory that starts up can probably make as good a widget as the private equivalent. The point of competition is that over time successful practices and innovations are selected and rewarded, while less successful ones are winnowed out.

I imagine the infusion of voucher money into the private education sector is a little like the early days of the dot-com boom: Plenty of crap ideas chasing those new dollars, most of which aren't going to survive. The question is whether it's politically possible for the programs to last through that phase.