There is No Choice That Comes Without Strings
Four years ago Indiana began work on the most extensive school choice system in the country. Today 5% of their students participate in the choice program and Governor Pence would like to expand that number. “Choice” is supposed to be the rallying cry for conservative candidates. When we look at the problems in our large struggling urban districts here in Missouri and the learning environment in those schools, the compassionate side of our brains say, “We need to give those people an alternative to that horrible local school.” But the logical side of our brain, which must deal with reality, not wishful thinking, must consider the potential damage of choice programs that are structured to bring all the regulation and control of public schools to private schools, offering parents the same basic education only in a different building.
A number of grassroots groups in Indiana have released a statement “Platform for Educational Empowerment” on school choice which details the troublesome strings that come with the voucher money in their state. Susan Berry of Breitbart News reported on where this platform is coming from.
However, while many establishment Republicans tout “school choice” programs as a sign of their “conservative” credentials, in reality, many rank and file conservatives are against the idea, especially when the vouchers come with “strings” attached, requiring the voucher-accepting schools to conform to state regulations.
These strings are the logical extension of accountability that everyone wants in anything that is publicly funded. That is the Achilles heal of most choice programs. If the money comes from the general public through a state funded program, then the general public becomes the investor in that education delivery system and has a right to dictate certain terms. They get to set the goal of that education and the terms by which it will be determined if the school has delivered on their investment. That is traditionally how we view state run programs.
However, if you are a parent who rejects the goals of the public education system and have enrolled your child in a different school whose goals are more in line with your own, how happy are you going to be about the state now coming in a “re-aligning” the goals of the school you are paying for out of your own pocket?
Milton Freidman is a big supporter of the voucher system. He believed that parents would gain back their lost authority over education under his pseduo-market voucher system. By having the parents choose which school their child attends, public schools would be forced to compete with private schools for students, and would do so through various means of increasing their efficiency. This ignores the fact that private schools also collect funds from parents directly which means they have access to additional funds that local schools do not to add features and amenities to their programs which would make them even more attractive than the public school option. Friedman acknowledged this only in his predication that private schools would spring up everywhere in response to the existence of vouchers. He envisioned that the state could establish specialty schools to attract parents with vouchers. The system he envisioned would in fact not deliver education equally which should make it problematic for those on the left who insist on educational equity.
Gary North delivered a response to Friedman’s pseudo-market scheme. North focused on the locus of authority for educating. He believes it eternally lies with the family. A choice system only gives the impression of returning that authority to the family.
“The question must still be asked: Where is the locus of authority [in a voucher system]? And the answer must still be the same: the civil government. The voucher program violates the most important principle of education: parents are responsible for the financing of their children’s education. He who is responsible is also legally sovereign, and vice versa. Operationally, the source of the funding determines the locus of authority. The goal of all those who would defend market arrangements must be to determine the moral locus of authority in any particular circumstance, and then see to it that the sovereign agent be made legally and economically responsible for the exercise of his power…
In the voucher system, the source of the funding is still the taxation system. The financing is based on the principle that it is legitimate to use political power in order to grant benefits to one group at the expense of the other. The principle of coercion is still dominant. The dominant principle, over time, will thwart the elements of voluntarism in any pseudo-market scheme. The state is still the operational sovereign over education, simply because the threat of violence, which is the state’s legal monopoly, is the source of the funds for education…
He [Friedman] believes that the technical alteration of the way in which coercively collected taxes are redistributed can overcome the authority of the state. He acknowledges that the authority of the parents in a voucher scheme cannot be absolute. “
Forty grassroots groups in Indiana agree with North. They think choice is a dirty word that sounds good, but in fact opens the door to forcing things like Common Core into the private schools where parents are now putting their kids to get away from Common Core.
From Breitbart- “As conservatives and activists who have been at the forefront of the education debates in Indiana for the past two years, the groups represented here reject recent media reports that the expansion of school vouchers is a major priority for grassroots conservatives,” said Heather Crossin, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core. “School choice needs freedom to thrive; therefore our first priority is to free voucher schools from the stifling regulations which bind them. We believed it was important to set the record straight.”
Parents with children in Catholic schools in Indiana have already experienced this erosion. As state required coursework is being added to their school’s curriculum they are finding deaf ears among the administrators when they complain that such curriculum is not in line with their Catholic values. The administrators have a new client to satisfy and that client has an almost endless stream of children who will happily take the place of children whose parents complain, with the added benefit that the parents of the voucher students will be so happy to have their child out of the horrible public school that they won’t see anything to complain about in the private school. The parents paying out of their own pockets for Catholic education have lost control of their schools.
Any legislator who is out there telling you that choice is the way to “fix” schools is not considering the reality of how state funded choice must work. They are not thinking about how choice becomes the mechanism by which the state now controls ALL education.
Gary North’s article is rather lengthy but it is a very well thought out response to Friedman’s position. I encourage you to take the time to read all of it.
Published January 9, 2015