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Cato Report Improperly Conflates the Civic and Economic Definitions of a Public Good

BOULDER, CO (June 26, 2018) – A recent report from the Cato Institute starts with Horace Mann’s well-known conviction that public schools are the bedrock of a democratic society – a public good that should be made available to all. It ends with a proposal for de-funding public schools and introducing a nationwide education savings account (voucher) program.

Professor Doris A. Santoro of Bowdoin College reviewed Is Public Schooling a Public Good? An Analysis of Schooling Externalities, and found that it improperly conflates the civic and economic definitions of a public good. 

Although the report begins with Mann’s vision of the role of public schools as building a better society, it then misleadingly shifts the analysis to the economic value of public schools as a market-based “good” like steel or corn. The report relies on a false equivalence of the civic and economic definitions of a public good to advance its voucher proposal. 

While there is extensive research on the educational purposes of schooling, the Cato report’s limited review of this literature consistently misrepresents the meaning, scope and implications of this literature. The result is a portrayal of public schools as “agents of harm” for what appears to be an ideologically-driven thought experiment. 

Even for those who might be in favor of vouchers, Professor Santoro concludes, the report’s imbalance, flawed logic and limited research base render the report of no use to policymakers.

Find the review, by Doris A. Santoro, at:

Find Is Public Schooling a Public Good? An Analysis of Schooling Externalities, written by Corey A. DeAngelis and published by Cato Institute, at:

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