Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don’t Buy I

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The odds are good that privatizing education will be part of the agenda for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration. The Republican platform calls for increasing the role of banks in giving out student loans. And Mr. Trump and the platform advocate an expansion of both vouchers, which enable students to attend the private school of their choice with government funds, and charter schools.

In addition, Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s nominee for education secretary, has supported legislation that would establish vouchers in Michigan, as well as the rapid expansion of the state’s charter school sector.

You might think that most economists agree with this overall approach, because economists generally like free markets. For example, over 90 percent of the members of the University of Chicago’s panel of leading economists thought that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft made consumers better off by providing competition for the highly regulated taxi industry.

But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education. Only a third of economists on the Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice.

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