A new study finds government regulation is stifling the creation of new private schools in the U.S., just as more parents are determined to pull their children out of under-performing government institutions.
The study by the Reason Foundation says the result of the government red tape is that there are fewer non-public-school options open to parents, which drives up the cost of existing private facilities.
“Parents who want higher-quality education for their children are routinely being turned away or put on waiting lists as private schools fill to capacity and high demand and low supply force prices upward,” the report explains.
The report highlights how stringent regulations impose high costs on those hoping to open new schools, keeping potential entrepreneurs out of the market.
Authors of the report see a need for more competition in the education arena.
The report stated: “Ultimately, for schools to be competitive and performance-based, and for parents and students to have real choices in their education, the supply of private schooling must be dynamic and competitive as well. The battle for better schooling must be fought on both fronts. That means that the challengers of the status quo shift some of their resources to combating the regulatory obstacles to private schooling.”
Reason’s research focused on California, but obstacles to school building can be found in all 50 states.
The report listed four major stumbling blocks:
- The state Environmental Quality Act, which imposes several obstacles to acquiring a piece of land or modifying a structure on that land;
- City zoning requirements, which impose restrictions on the location of a private school;
- City parking requirements; and
- State and local building codes, which deal with the school building itself.
The report points out that if opponents to government schools were to get their way, for example, if vouchers for private education were widely distributed, the supply of independent schools could in no way meet the need.
“The opponents of government schooling are right to focus on making private schooling viable, but almost all the attention has been on demand-side reforms like vouchers and tax credits,” the authors write. “Even if demand-side reforms were to succeed, the situation on the supply side would prevent those reforms from succeeding.”
So what’s the solution? Far fewer regulations on those hoping to open new schools, the Reason report states:
“An approach designed to deal with real and measurable impact would require fewer regulations and less paperwork with a faster and simpler approval process. Some restrictions would still exist, but far fewer than under current approaches. … Such streamlining would allow parents greater choice in schools and students a greater chance to succeed.”
One of the stories included in the report involved Michael Leahy, founder of the Alsion Montessori Middle/High School in Fremont, Calif. Leahy estimated that the natural cost of building his school was $400,000, but the total cost came to about $1.2 million because of numerous regulations. For example, Leahy was required to install a red tile roof on the structure.
Another entrepreneur, Ray Youmans, president of Innovative Component Groups Inc. in Sacramento, explained that he hoped to build a 10,000 square-foot roof on school property, simply as a structure without walls to protect the area from the rain and sun. Government regulations forced his company to install a $40,000 sprinkler system even though the structure was made entirely of steel and, he says, had no chance of catching fire.