Saturday, April 21, 2018

Letter: ‘Vouchers Will Hurt Public Schools.’ So?

Here is an excerpt from a letter that appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on 3/17/17 opposing a federal school voucher bill:

Vouchers will hurt public schools

The proposed federal school voucher bill (HR610) in Congress will divert funds away from public education and will ultimately have a catastrophic effect on public schools.

A true democracy requires an educated public and the public school system is the most effective way to achieve that goal.

Jeanne Perry Califon
A typical argument advanced by defenders of the government (public) school establishment against school choice is that it will “divert funds away from public education and will ultimately have a catastrophic effect on public schools,” as this recent letter put it.

To which my answer is—So?

The entrenched public school establishment—the teachers unions, public school administrators, school boards—do not own the public purse. Those dollars belong first to the taxpayers, each as individuals. To take by force a taxpayer’s money, allegedly for education, and then deny that person the right to direct it as she chooses is a cruel fraud.

The dictatorial monopoly we call the “public schools” exists as it is only by force of taxation and compulsory school attendance laws. Why should that be? Why should an entrenched and powerful political faction have sole power to impose their educational philosophy, teacher training, and school administration methods on the rest of us? The question every public school apologist should be asked is; Don’t you believe that, given the choice, taxpayers and parents would voluntarily send their children to your schools, and voluntarily pay for them? The answer is obvious.

The public school establishment does not and should not have first claim on Americans’ education tax dollars or their children. If we must have tax-supported education—and at this point Americans overwhelmingly believe that every child should be guaranteed the financial means to a K-12 education—it does not automatically follow that tax-funded education must be provided by a government-backed coercive monopoly free from parental choice, taxpayer oversight, and entrepreneurial innovation and competition. The taxpayer and the parent should have first claim on how her education tax dollars are spent and on the course of her own child’s education, respectively. It is incredibly arrogant and laughingly absurd to claim that “the public school system is the most effective way to achieve . . . an educated public.” A public school that parents willingly choose not to send their child to should lose its public funds, and if that school must close or merge with another public school to survive, so be it. No public school has an inherent right to exist if liberated parents “vote with their feet”—their tax dollars.

More tellingly, the reference to “a true democracy” as the fundamental reason for government schools spills the beans as to the true purpose of the government schools—political indoctrination. But the schools should not be about directing the future voting choices of its students. The basic purpose of education is to prepare the child to be an independent, thinking, rationally critical adult capable of understanding and dealing with reality so as to give him the intellectual power and self-esteem to make his own life the best it could be. The capacity for properly analyzing political issues is of course a derivative of being an independent thinking adult. But Ms. Perry’s focus on “true democracy”—what I call Democracy Fundamentalism, the opposite of constitutional republican democracy—all but acknowledges that political indoctrination, not education, is what largely motivates the public school monopoly defenders and lies behind the opposition to school choice. How else to explain why the young come out of America's schools with a bias toward collectivism/authoritarianism/socialism? A properly educated young adult—the independent thinker—will implicitly gravitate toward the politics of individualism, liberty, and capitalism. The statists will not have that. They recognize that the independent, self-responsible adult will demand that his freedom to direct the course of his own life is the enemy of statist power of the individual. Thus, the virulent, fanatical opposition to school choice.

Greed also is a significant motivator of the anti-choice reactionaries, as it does for defenders of any coercive monopoly. The reactionary defenders of the public schools want to maintain the dictatorial monopoly not just for financial reasons but also in order to protect their lock on Leftist political indoctrination, and thus the statists’ political power. This makes it all the more urgent to break the public school monopoly through school choice. A free market is the only genuine mechanism for holding educators accountable, by virtue of the ability of parents to leave one school for another and the freedom of education entrepreneurs to offer a diverse array of competing alternatives. A broad and robust school choice option is a major step toward a genuine free market. Universal school choice through tax credits and/or education savings accounts* would legally recognize the moral right of every taxpayer to sponsor the education of any child—be it her own, a grandchild, a child of a low income household, a special needs child, gifted child, etc.—based on the voluntary choice of the recipient child’s parent or guardian. The choice could be a charter school, a private school (for-profit or non-profit), the homeschool option, or even another public school.

The ability to provide a better education alternative to their local public school should not be exclusive for wealthy parents. Nor should middle or lower income parents who do try an alternative have to endure the crushing hardship of having to pay double—once for the public schools they do not use, and again for the educational alternative they try to give their children. The universal school choice movement is the answer.


[* NOTE: I personally do not approve of vouchers because of the potentially deleterious effect they would have on private schools accepting the vouchers. See my article Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?]

Related Reading:

Real School Choice Depends on Free Exercise of Individual Rights

Modern-Day George Wallaces in Reverse

School Choice Doesn’t ‘Discriminate’; It Expands Opportunity Through Liberation

Contra Congressman Donald M. Payne, a ‘For-Profit Model’ is Just What Education Needs

The Educational Bonanza in Privatizing Government SchoolsAndrew Bernstein for The Objective Standard


Burr Deming said...

As always, you present a coherent argument for the libertarian view, in this case against the exclusive funding of public education over private alternatives.

We published a link to your article. As might be expected from a left of center site, there was articulate disagreement.

The thrust of that opposing argument is that public education came to be precisely because of educational needs not addressed by private education.

I like your habit of publishing views with which you disagree, alongside your reasons for disagreeing. We try to follow your good example.

Mike Kevitt said...

The "educational needs" not addressed by private education are the collectivist indoctrination of students. Those are the "needs" of advocates of government schools. It's government schools which don't address educational needs, such as civics.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

BURR: Thanks for the encouraging comments.

As to those arguing that "public education came to be precisely because of educational needs not addressed by private education," my answer is: Go ahead, address it. In a free market, or even a semi-free market of universal school choice, who could stop you? One of the best features of a fully free and private education market is precisely to allow education entrepreneurs to identify unmet needs and offer new and innovative solutions. Everyone should be free to implement their ideas — by voluntary consent and agreement . The minute someone decides to use government force to impose and pay for her “solution” to what she has decided are unmet educational needs, she is denying to others with different ideas the same freedom: She is defeating the very purpose by which she defends public education..

MIKE: Good point. What about the educational needs not addressed by public education?

Mike Kevitt said...

I mentioned one of the educational needs not addressed by government (public) schools: civics.

Since June, 1962, I've not seen the inside of a K-12 classroom nor been directly concerned with one, since I've never had any kids nor have tried to put any other kids thru school, and I've never independently researched the issue in an intellectual, scholarly way. So, I'm a second hander on all this, even regarding civics. I just take the say so of anybody I consider credible by my own judgment in the context of a grossly deteriorating culture, starting at an already very low point to which I was lethally exposed, in my time, namely, the leading Objectivists going back to, and including, Ayn Rand. I take their say so. (But I don't always take their solution, education, as always fully adequate.)

If Objectivist say government schools de-emphasize not just civics, but also the three R's, math, science, classics, reading, etc. in favor of, in two words, social adjustment, I believe them, in the context of our grossly deteriorated culture to which I was lethally exposed. Am I wrong?

But, I go by my own withers as to the ultimate (basic) nature of the cultural deterioration and as to what needs to be done about it. Something more than education is needed. Again, am I wrong, I ask, without specifying what I mean by something more? On both counts, I don't think I'm wrong, but I'm open to looking at reasonable arguments one way or the other.