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Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson

July 19, 2017

Tax Credits Can’t Create a Competitive Education Marketplace

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I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Andrew Coulson to my development of a comprehensive menu of school choice options. It was Coulson’s persistence in defending his views that prompted me to find ways of addressing the issues he raised and defending them against his challenges.

Andrew Coulson and I agreed on a central point: What is needed to improve the present K–12 system of public schools is the creation of a vigorous education marketplace, with different types of schools and education providers actively competing for students and their tuition dollars. Our differences lay in how to do it. His approach was to focus school choice reform efforts almost exclusively on the use of personal and scholarship tax credits, with the use of vouchers considered only as a fallback position in situations in which tax credits would not work. My position was, and still is, to focus reform efforts primarily on universal vouchers while also supporting a range of other school choice options because different parents and different education vendors need different school choice vehicles for a variety of valid reasons. We exchanged views in 2004, when he published the report “Forging Consensus,”1 which argued for the superiority of tax credits. I responded with “Still No Consensus on School Choice.” We again exchanged our different views in 2008 at a conference on the design of school choice programs, held at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism.

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George Clowes is former Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding managing editor of School Reform News between November 1996 and January 2005.