Saturday, May 30, 2015

Former N.J. Governor Florio’s Immoral Hostility Toward the Needs of the ‘Most Motivated Students’

On January 28, 2015, New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnists Joshua P. Thompson and Mark Miller of the Pacific Legal Foundation posted a good article titled Benefits of school choice extend far beyond disadvantaged students (See my May 15 post on the article, linked to below).

On February 3, raging anti-school choicer and former NJ Governor James J. Florio responded with a scorching rebuttal to Thompson and Miller. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a reactionary defender of the monopolistic government education establishment.

The subject of the opposing articles is the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act, which uses corporate tax credits to fund school choice options for children of low-income NJ parents. The act is far from an ideal way to advance school choice, as I have observed. But that is beside the point of Florio’s argument, which is an attack on anything and anyone that threatens the government’s education hegemony, even at the cost of sacrificing the best students.

In my comments to Florio’s article, I called out specific passages to rebut:

“Tax credits are, in fact, tax expenditures.”

Demonstrably false. Somewhere, George Orwell is saying, “I told you so!” Tax credits leave money in the hands of those who earned it, to use as they judge best, before the government ever takes possession of the money. You can’t expend what you don’t have. This is an observational fact. It was also recognized by the Supreme Court in a ruling on education tax credits, in which the court said:

Tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. [The] contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence.

Or in fact. Follow the money: With government vouchers, the flow of funds passes from taxpayers to government to the schools; with a tax-credit funded private program, as recognized by the Supreme Court, taxpayers “spend their own money,” not “government property.” Tax credits are not tax expenditures, and it is dishonest to say so. Government has no inherent ownership claim on our income. We have a government of, for, and by the people—not the other way around.

“Voucher proponents are ready to jettison this uniquely American institution [government schools] and segregate the most motivated students to private schools, leaving the vast majority of students in failing schools.

“Accepting vouchers would signal a willingness to relegate the majority of the students in failing schools to second-class citizenship.”

“Failing schools.” “Second-class citizenship.” These terms are tacit admissions that many government schools are failing; this, after a century of government-run public K-12 schooling. At what point does failure stop being a rationalization for yet another government fix? Get the government’s central planning “experts” out and put parents in charge. Liberating the most motivated parents and the most motivated students from the ball-and-chain anchoring them down to the level of the worst parents and students is one of the best moral arguments for school choice—and one of the best arguments against our one-size-fits-all government-controlled school system.

“Incidentally, the creation of a voucher program providing public money to low-income families for private schools will undoubtedly create a for-profit private school system ready to focus on this universe of recipients.”

A tax credit program is not “a voucher program providing public money” (see above). But the creation of “a for-profit private school system ready to focus on this universe of recipients” is exactly the point of school choice. Liberate the market so education entrepreneurs can offer up a wide diversity of options for parents to choose from. In a free market, profits ultimately go to schools that best satisfy consumers, and what set of consumers are more badly in need of the better quality options free markets inevitably give rise to than education consumers? Of course, for-profit schools are not the only options that a freer education market will spawn.

“Since these students will be a part of our future workforce, if the immorality of that doesn't bother you, think about the economic consequences in terms of the knowledge-based economy of the future. Vouchers? We can do better.”

What should bother us is the immorality of dogmatically perpetuating a coercive government monopoly that keeps kids trapped in schools that even their supporters acknowledge are failing. Reactionary defenders of the government school monopoly are like reverse George Wallaces: They effectively stand in the schoolhouse door, not to keep children out, but to keep children whom their parents believe would be better served elsewhere trapped inside government schools.

How can any political leader—or anyone—in good conscience stand in the way of parents seeking out the education best suited to their own children? Rather than keep kids in, we need to provide every student and parent with a path out of zip code-based compulsory school assignment, by recognizing every parent’s—and every taxpayer’s—right to direct the course of their own children’s education and expenditure of their own education tax dollars. And school choice is not just for “failing schools”: Not every “failing” school is bad for every child, and neither will every school labeled “good” satisfy the needs of every child. Universal education tax credits, properly structured, are the best way under current constitutional law to expand opportunity for school choice to everyone—rich, middle class, or poor, academically gifted to special needs. Educational emancipation is the moral imperative of our time.

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