January 09, 2014
scant sunlight, and dozens of legislatures are -- or will soon be -- back in
and the case for despair is strong.
But let’s channel Pollyanna. Meteorological
winter is nearly half over, daylight saving time arrives in eight weeks,
and it’s likely that during the next several months, politicians in some states
will enact school-choice reforms.
freedom doesn’t get much attention from the legacy media anymore. A plausible
reason for the news blackout: Choices are proliferating.
In 1990, Milwaukee founded the
nation’s first voucher program. Cleveland
followed, five years later, and Arizona
implemented an innovative tax-credit architecture in 1997. Progress elsewhere
was slow, and discouraging. Unions spent big bucks to demonize choice.
School-board members cared more about administering their fiefdoms than launching
bold experiments. Press coverage was usually ignorant, and often biased.
But in 2002, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that provided certain conditions are met, vouchers do not
violate the First
Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The preexisting enemies remained, and state constitutions posed barriers,
but options began to blossom nonetheless. Choice plans targeted
special-education students. Arizona-style tax credits were allowed for
individuals and corporations making donations to scholarship funds. Even the
horrid schools in Washington,
D.C. were subjected to
In the 2012-13
school year, close to 250,000 kids benefitted from choice programs. In addition
to Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington,
vouchers are available in Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. In addition to Arizona, at least one type of tax credit is offered by Rhode Island, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania,
New Hampshire, and North Carolina.
The Goldwater Institute recently
the Grand Canyon State’s
three-year-old Empowerment Scholarship
Accounts. “With a savings account,” wrote Jonathan Butcher, the think
tank’s education director, “parents can choose from a wide variety of online
classes, personal tutors, educational therapies, textbooks, and private
schools. In fact, parents do not have to send their children to private school
at all. … They can use a combination of homeschool lessons, virtual school
classes, and individual public school classes.”
only special-needs children who attended government schools the previous year
were granted access to education savings accounts. Eligibility has been
expanded, Butcher explained, “to include children from public schools that
earned a ‘D’ or ‘F’ on the state report card system, children adopted from
Arizona’s foster care system, [and] children of parents who are active-duty
members of the U.S. military.” More than 20 percent of the state’s pupils can
now participate in the program. And in anticipation of a favorable ruling by
the Arizona Supreme Court, the Institute is working with State
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale) to permit savings accounts for all low-income
School choice improves
student performance and lightens
taxpayers’ burdens. But in time, its greatest contribution may be the doubt
For over a
century, Americans have thought of K-12 education as a government function.
They’ve let politicians (i.e., school-board members) oversee bureaucracies
(i.e., school districts) funded by public subsidies (i.e., tax revenue) direct
the learning process. The results, a
gutsy state legislator from Utah noted last year, have been calamitous:
“Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their
child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system. As a
result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents,
expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate
nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and
and dependency don’t come cheap. At a price of just
under $600 billion in 2011 -- credible
analysts think the estimate is far too low -- government-run primary and
secondary schools consume an alarmingly large, always-growing share of America’s
Choice, in all
its forms, reverses the trend. It doesn’t get politicians and bureaucrats out
of education, but it relinquishes a fair degree of control. Choice prompts
parents to consider whether the school assigned to their child offers the best match.
Maybe there are better alternatives, and perhaps -- this might sound crazy, but
go with it -- government does not know what’s best.
Legislatures, abetted by governors,
will do oodles of damage this year. They’ll impose tax hikes, threaten civil
liberties, reward public-employee unions, embrace junk-science regulations, and
continue to implement Obamacare. And they’ll surely perpetuate disastrous
education policies, from “universal
preschool” to boosting
But in some
states, choice measures will advance -- and every education-freedom victory draws
the nation closer to the imperative separation of school and state.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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