Private Schools for the Public Good
Education is both a public good and to a considerable extent a private good. Purchasers of education benefit directly from what they pay for, making it a private good. Education is often viewed, however, also as a public good, primarily because of its positive spillover effects. For economists, a public good is not simply something that is “good for the public”; it is something that benefits many people, including those who do not pay for it. Learning to read and write helps the individual and in that sense is a private good, but it also provides a public good because it makes people better citizens, acquaintances, and colleague - contributing to the lives of others, even though they do not pay for those benefits. Advanced education similarly fosters greater productivity and innovation, improving the lives of everyone, not just those who bought the education.
If we were to rely on private education only, poor people would never obtain it. Although they would have an incentive to obtain education, that private incentive would not ensure that they would get “enough” education to satisfy society’s needs. These arguments lead inevitably to the claim that the government must help to provide education, and, indeed, governments are heavily engaged in supplying this “public good. But it is at least in part a “bad” public good. When ideal amounts of a good cannot adequately be provided privately, many people, economists and non-economists alike, argue that tax-financed provision should be forthcoming from government.
There is a growing paradox where private schools are resisting taxation of their establishments as if de-incentivizing them and punishing them for the public good they are providing which could be provided by the government but also its a known tradition for the government to tax the private sector either for revenue purposes, mandatory or as a measure to control migration of resources and citizens from the public to private settings.
Under current economic theory, the assumption is that education will be suboptimally provided. This probable under-provision has led to the claim that the government must intervene to provide education. And, indeed, at all educational levels, there is substantial government provision of education in the Uganda. The problem that arises is that the quality of government-provided services, including education, is often inadequate. Private schools are uniquely positioned to make a difference in the public domain. Given the societal turf private schools occupy, the considerable resources they command, and the powerful network of caring and influential people they attract, private schools have the opportunity and the obligation to do more than educate the nation's children exceptionally well.
Private schools should anticipate growing public scrutiny and possible opposition if they fail to engage the school community in the greater public good. Most public school teachers and administrators have difficulty equating the educational world they live in with the variable circumstances of private schools. They also believe that private schools have much to learn from them, beginning with how to serve truly diverse populations of students and how to teach to the full range of learning styles and learning differences.
This public purpose commitment derives from the notion that human beings have both the desire and the capacity to make the world a better place. Similarly, schools should be viewed as transforming institutions that measure their success, in large part, by the extent to which their graduates contribute positively to their world. For a school to develop public purpose initiatives, it should provide the opportunity for students to participate. Another is that institutional modeling can have an enduring impact on their graduates' life choices, including their life's work and their adult volunteer and philanthropic decisions.
In Uganda, private schools are sometimes adequate substitutes and alternatives for public schools and should receive public subsidies, funding and tax-exemptions. It is clear good education doesn’t depend on big government budgets. Unfortunately, these private schools currently face legal, financial and taxation threats. If they disappear, parents will have even fewer choices in education.
Private Schools have the opportunity and the obligation to develop models that contribute to the improvement of Ugandan education and to extend the use of their insights, energy, and resources beyond their campus walls. Therefore, private schools should;
- Serve public schools and low income populations. Given the current challenges facing Uganda’s public schools and the increasing gap separating the "haves" from the "have nots," these are simply the areas where the need for assistance is greatest.
- Collaborate, where possible, with the Private Schools Association and other appropriate public and/or nonprofit organizations. "Partnership" is our public purpose mantra; the more collaboration, the more synergy; the more synergy, the more powerful and expansive the outcomes. Our purpose is to marshal the larger community's resources in the most effective ways possible, not to be proprietary or to blow our own trumpets.
- Select initiatives that will affect substantial numbers of people. While quality, flexibility, responsiveness, and leanness come first, "going to scale" is also important – both to maximize the number of people we serve and to make our programs attractive to others who might replicate them.
- The school's administration must not only embrace, but also take the lead in, promoting a public purpose agenda. Partnerships for the public good, rather than competition, should be the goal. Embed the school's public purpose commitment in their strategic plans, budgets and mission.