Thursday, April 30, 2009

Growth, costs, choice of schools (in Manhattan)

Kindergarten waiting lists are overflowing, and parents in the Big Apple don't know if their children will have any school next year, much less the program of their choice. The New York Times reports that families moving into new condominium buildings and parents trying to avoid private school tuition are flooding the public schools, with predictable results.

Enrollment growth raises a cost issue there that applies just as well in Kentucky. Adding one more child to a classroom with space has limited costs. Once the classrooms are full, though, breaking ground for new classrooms is hugely expensive. Ask folks in Boone County how that works, and they can give you a complete tour.

No discussion of school choice is serious unless it tackles this central supply problem. Private schools, charter schools, and schools with open enrollment will happily admit students right up until the last desk is taken. After that, they will cheerfully turn away all further applicants. When expanding "production" would cost more than they can charge, they simply will not expand.


  1. You raise some good points. Two things though:

    -Leasing a building to deal with excess enrollment is a lot cheaper and allows for more flexibility than breaking new ground for classrooms
    -Suppliers would probably be a lot more receptive to making long term investments if they were confident charter/choice laws wouldn't change in the future. Restrictive laws (caps, etc) and uncertainty probably keep a lot of investment/supply out.

    I would think the bigger supply problem would be finding enough crazy (crazy in a good way) people who are willing to work the 14 hour days for little pay needed to run a high performing charter.

  2. There certainly are some vacant buildings for lease that provide appropriate classroom, cafeteria and physical activity space with adequate fire escapes and restrooms for student use.

    Respectfully, I doubt the supply is large enough to allow rapid school expansion. I especially doubt that vacant suitable buildings are common in areas with rapid growth in residential and commercial demand.

    In the private education sector, from preschool to higher education, programs use family basements, borrow church space, or seek separate capital donations in order to build. They do not fund facilities out of student tuition and fees, because the cost is prohibitive.

    I'm not arguing against a market model here. I'm arguing for a real market model based on the real structure of production costs.

    In this sector, the marginal income available from expanding enrollment is not sufficient to attract new investment in fixed facilities.


Updates and data on Kentucky education!