Monday, November 14, 2011

School Choice, Collectivist Style

Recently NJ Star-Ledger columnist Joan Whitlow wrote:

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to improve education in Newark [New Jersey], and it was announced that the city would seek matching funds, Newark residents were told they would decide how the money would be spent.

Newarkers would decide? Well, it's more like Newark residents may get to suggest. Unless they can plunk down a $10 million donation, they won't be on the board that does the deciding — not as it stands now.

That needs to change.

According to Whitlow, the Foundation for Newark's Future will dispense the money. That board is made up of Mayor Corey Booker and anyone who donates $10 million bucks or more. The trouble is, thinks Whitlow, the board members don’t have to be – and apparently aren’t – from Newark. It is “hoped” that “the group will [eventually] include Newark people”.

But apparently “Newarkers” won’t have much to say on who sits on the board and on how the money is spent, because according to Gregory Taylor, the foundation's president and CEO, “letting the people have their say is not how professional philanthropy works.”

Whitlow concedes that “When people put up big money, they want — and have a right — to have a say over how the money is spent to protect those assets." But she still believes this represents a broken promise. Her solution?

If the goal is to improve education in Newark, the board should be expanded to include voting members from and of Newark, with a direct say in how the money is spent. That fund needs people who have a sense of what has worked and already failed, people who have a stake in the outcome. The board needs balance against any preconceived notions about education that might motivate someone to give $10 million, or more.

Yes, it's their money. But it's Newark's kids.

I’ve left the following comments:

October 07, 2011 at 10:22PM

Newarkers should decide. I agree. Soliciting tens of thousands of residents to each put their two cents in is not the power to decide. But neither is handing out seats on some board to a few people “from and of Newark” letting “Newark residents … decide how the money would be spent.” It is an end run around the freedom to decide.

How about real decision-making power? Start by turning Zuckerberg’s grant and the matching funds into tuition scholarships for parents who want to decide in which school, public or private, to enroll their kid. But don’t stop there. Supplement parents’ decision-making powers with tuition tax credits, so they can apply their own education dollars according to their own judgement. If letting Newark residents decide is truly the goal, then how about universalizing the tax credits, so every resident that pays school taxes can finance any child’s education – a niece, grandchild, neighbor – or pledge his/her credits to the Zuckerberg scholarship fund?

A centrally planned, government-run monopoly by any other name is still a centrally planned, government-run monopoly. Fighting over who gets to impose their ideas on everyone else does not change the nature of the beast. Does it really make a difference whether or not the planners have a Newark address or not? No, because we are not talking about “Newark’s kids”. They are the parents’ kids.

Ultimately, only a free market empowers parents, because the fundamental truth is, whoever pays sets the terms. Creating scholarship funds is a step in the right direction, because it at least brings parents directly into the process, giving them a voice. If the conditions donors place upon their money do not satisfy the beneficiaries, there will be no beneficiaries. Handing their money over to the same establishment that currently runs failing schools is not the solution, no matter who sits on what board.


Mike Kevitt said...

When I read where you said, "...we are not talking about 'Newark's kids'. They are the parents' kids.", that really hit my head, the right way. That's so obvious a truth I might've never thought of it, and that allows people to evade it. It keeps me from noticing their evasion. In order to stop them, I need to remember, or be reminded of it, or I'll likely overlook it (not willfully). When I talk about people EVADING something, I do mean they're doing it deliberately. Yes, of course, I've done it, deliberately. I can say this much for evaders: It's hard to unlearn it. But, unlearning it is still just a wash of learning it in the 1st. place.

Mike Zemack said...

There are a thousand ways for statists to smuggle collectivist premises into the dialogue. To leave them unchallenged, even inadvertantly and innocently, is to fall into their trap.

We who advocate freedom must train ourselves to spot it, and expose it. Then we move the conversation onto our ideological turf.