Because US public schools do poorly compared to those in other developed countries, those who support a “free market” approach argue the quality of education would be improved if public education were subjected to the effects of competition: schools that are inferior will go bankrupt; schools that are good get more customers. (This leaves aside the question about how the quality of teaching is determined and by whom.)
Those in favor of “free market” solutions suggest that public education become privatized: they say the government should collect taxes to give to private schools. This is procedure with charter schools and voucher programs. However, this is not “free market,” but a government subsidy of an industry. Whenever the government subsidizes an industry, costs skyrocket. For example, when Medicaid/Medicare started providing full coverage for drugs, Big Pharma raised drug prices. When the Federal government started guaranteeing student loans for college, tuition went up. When the Affordable Care Act forced people buy health insurance, premiums increased. This is predictable given the basic law of free markets: when there is more money available for goods and services, the prices will go up. There is no reason to think the cost of education will decrease if tax dollars start going to private schools.
In a truly free market the government would stop collecting taxes to run schools and make parents either pay out of pocket for a school or tutor or provide education for their children themselves.
A hundred plus years ago when public education was made compulsory, it was more economically efficient to put twenty kids in one classroom with one teacher, compared to hiring tutors for each family. Also, at the time, the average family did not have access to educational materials. The tax-supported public school was an efficient solution that worked well for a time. These days, however, with the cost per child at around $12,000 per year, public education is no longer more efficient than it would be to hire private tutors. These days, with Internet connections and public libraries, every family has free access to educational materials. Children who are home-schooled do about 37% better on college entrance tests than public and private school children, and this is true regardless of the education level of the parents.
Government or community association should/could step in to help citizens achieve what individuals and families cannot achieve on their own or easily purchase on the free market. For instance, societies need roads, communication lines, a standard currency, a defensive army, disability coverage and hospital care. The individual family cannot produce or buy these things; they need to share the costs of these services with their community. Education, however, is no longer out of reach of the average individual family. The only real service public education currently provides the average family is babysitting so that parents can work. When both parents work and pay other people for domestic services (food preparation, housekeeping, child care, home repair and etc.) the government collects more taxes.
Moreover, as it is, public education can make a country less educated for the following reasons: 1. Because parents are not expected to provide an education for their children, they are not motivated to educate themselves. 2. When the government pays for education, it gets to decide what should be taught. This results in a very narrow range of knowledge among the population, and 3. Some important historical and scientific information might intentionally omitted from the curriculum by those few people making the decisions. 4. Separating the experience of education from day-to-day home life makes education itself seem irrelevant and unnatural.
A true free market solution for education might begin by eliminating local school taxes completely and charging sliding scale fees for families making more than $75,000 per year and encouraging all parents to take at least partial responsibility for teaching their children. For example, some parents could choose to work with the public schools on half-day schedules. Tutors could be available to offer individual help. Doing math and reading could take place at home, while more social activities, such as holding discussion groups, doing science, making art, and playing music, could be done at school, and these activities could be done with the parents too. Schools could be come community learning centers.
Since fees collected from families making over $75,000 per year would be insufficient to cover the costs of public education centers, the majority of the costs could be covered by fiat currency, if the US government took back its right to create US dollars from the Federal Reserve. Private schools could, of course, also still offer alternatives for those who don’t like the public school system, but they would not be subsidized by public dollars.