With this being National School Choice Week, the question arises: Why is school choice an issue for a free-market think tank? It’s pretty simple, really: A free market implies some element of widely dispersed decision making. Citizens make most of the decisions that affect their laws, not government officials.

That dispersal, practiced imperfectly in the United States, brings many benefits. Competition among businesses breeds innovation, restraints on price inflation, and a tailoring of services to meet the varied wants, needs, and means of consumers.

Education, especially the formal schooling of children, doesn’t exactly operate in a free market. Choice and competition exist only in a weak sense of the terms. People with sufficient means do choose school districts, usually through the very expensive and related proposition of buying a house. So not everyone has the same range of options to choose from, even though public schools allegedly advance the idea of equality.

The other reason that choice and competition aren’t very strong in education is that the supply of new schools is severely restrained. By law, we levy taxes and disperse money for the purpose of promoting education. But for the most part, we allow that money to be spent only in institutions that are owned by governments, which we call “school districts.” The districts, meanwhile, are encumbered by layers of laws and regulations, from both the federal and state governments.

Some districts do an adequate or even good job for some students. But the future of other students is stunted (sometimes, grievously so) by this top-down approach, with with local quasi-monopolies. Simply put, rather than build bigger and bigger schools (the trend of the last century), we should see more (and more differentiated) smaller schools, driven to change by the need to satisfy the needs and wants of students and parents, rather than the political system.