The dominant purpose of providing schooling is to control belief formation (pdf). That is why the biggest competitors to the state in school provision are religious bodies.
Progressivists generally want to control belief formation as much as possible, which is why they tend to hate private provision and parental choice in schooling. That is the great political bargain: the teacher unions protect and expand the privileges of their members while organising for those "goodies" on the basis of a set of beliefs that channels networking: both within the unions and in their wider political coalition building. So the bargain is—we will promote a shared belief set and you will support our monopolising rorts. Student vouchers are SO not helpful to that.
When parents pay for schooling (either directly or by choosing where to live), one of their biggest issues is controlling who sits "next to" their child. That is, whether kids in the classroom will help or frustrate their child's learning. Hence private schools and universities provide scholarships. Hence also suburban voters not liking vouchers. You spend the premium to buy a house in a "good school" area and the government then pays to ghetto kids turn up: this was not what you were buying.
So vouchers conflict with the interests of teachers, progressive politics and suburban parents. The surprising thing is not that vouchers have encountered much resistance but that there are any voucher programs at all.
BTW The notion that provision of government schooling promotes equality or social mixing is bunkum. Government schooling stratifies by the catchment area and ability to work the political process. (As someone who teaches in lots of schools in Melbourne, private schools are at least as ethnically mixed as government schools, for example.) Indeed, one study found that private schools were more socially racially integrated than government schools.
My original comment prompted a responding comment from economist Scott Sumner:
In my town people are strongly opposed to religion in the public schools, but then allow the schools to go out and indoctrinate students in socialism, feminism and environmentalism. Just to be clear I think the schools should cover economics, gender, and the environment. But it would be nice to have more than one point of view.Yes, quite, because it is all about controlling the socializing of belief. Those opposed to private schooling want to eliminate rival belief sets in education.
That the new UK Government is making it a lot easier to set up new schools is certainly a positive move. But there is still the deeper problem that, with government schooling, the main provider (government) is also the regulator, a massive and pervasive conflict of interest that afflicts both government and private schooling.
The claim is that government schooling is citizen controlled, which is largely nonsense. Private schooling gives parents more control, more effective say, which is why there is a surge in private schooling in some of the poorest regions of the world, where education opportunities matter most. Government schooling is like public sector activity generally, it is controlled by those who control the relevant attributes: officials and others in the public sector. Having the main provider also be the regulator makes that more so, not less.
If the head of a football club offered to take over the entire football code: set the rules, appoint the umpires while still competing in the code, people would treat the proposal with the derision it would deserve. But that is precisely the way most children are educated. What is obvious nonsense for a sporting code is no less nonsense for schooling. One might be tempted to say we care more about our sport than the schooling of our children, but it is more the case that “democratic accountability” is waved as a magic wand to boost confidence that Ministers for Education and Education bureaucrats are, somehow, magical and “rise above” the conflict of interest.
No, they don’t. Taking a good hard look at the perennial problems of government schooling shows that they don’t.