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If Only Wal-Mart Would Start Supplying K-12 Schooling!

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Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Critical of my argument that the quality of K-12 education would be higher if K-12 schools – like grocery stores – had to compete directly for customers, Liana Neyer writes “low-income earners and people living in rural areas have limited access to high-quality supermarkets or fresh produce in their neighborhoods” (Letters, May 16 [2]).

First, my argument isn’t that people in poor neighborhoods enjoy access to groceries equal in quality to the access enjoyed by people in wealthy neighborhoods.  Rather, I argue that more competition in K-12 education would make the schooling available to people in poor neighborhoods better than it is now.  However relatively lacking is the selection of groceries in poor neighborhoods, grocers there still must compete for customers’ dollars – a requirement that obliges those grocers to be more responsive to their customers than are those neighborhoods’ public schools which receive their revenue, not from voluntarily paying customers, but from taxpayers forced to pay regardless of how well or poorly their schools perform.  Consider, for example, that 47 percent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate [3] while approximately 0 percent are starving or wanting for the likes of toothpaste, paper towels, and laundry detergent.

Second, as with education, low-income Americans’ relatively poor access to groceries is caused partly by misguided government policies.  As I write, DC’s government is threatening to stop Wal-Mart from opening stores (which would sell groceries) in low-income DC neighborhoods [4].  Is there better evidence than Wal-Mart’s efforts to open stores in poor neighborhoods that competition would serve poor Americans well if only government would step aside and let entrepreneurs compete freely – in supplying schooling no less than in supplying groceries – for consumer dollars?

Donald J. Boudreaux