Their true colors

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted February 28, 2000

The surest way to improve the quality of education in America, of course, would be a massive lowering of taxes, sufficient to leave parents enough extra of their own income to make their own decisions when it comes to purchasing instruction for their kids.

Where did the quality of automobiles improve fastest -- in America, where dissatisfied Ford buyers could always buy a Chevrolet, or in the totalitarian junkyards of Eastern Europe, where the national auto works produced only one model, the commissar in charge saw no need to change a design that had been oversubscribed for 30 years, and there was no need to worry about it because you couldn't afford one, anyway?

Why should we doubt a free market in education -- the system in place here when Alexis de Tocqueville labeled America the most literate nation in the world, decades before Horace Mann and his Whigs brought back the idea of tax-supported government schools from totalitarian Prussia -- would work any differently today?

Unfortunately, thralled as they are to the bureaucratic unions, the current administration in Washington has so far offered us little more than baby steps toward such reform. And such proposals as they do offer tend to be "targeted " -- using the tax code to manipulate the populace into spending their earnings as government sees fit -- rather than truly liberating.

Within those considerable limitations, however, Republican Party leaders have actually managed to come up with an idea that's worth a try.

"It's a bill whose time I think has come," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said said February 22, describing legislation that would allow parents to place as much as $2,000 per year, per child, in education savings accounts for elementary and secondary school education -- including private school tuition.

The bill, which would also make tax-free any savings in prepaid tuition plans, while expanding tax breaks for employer-provided educational assistance, is being described as a mainstay of the Republican agenda for improving K-12 education. "We're going to keep bringing this up, keep bringing it to the public attention, keep sending it to the president," vows Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga.

Good.

The plan is opposed by the teachers unions, of course, and President Clinton vetoed a similar measure in 1998 -- though Democrat Robert Torricelli of New Jersey (co-sponsor of the current proposal along with Sen. Coverdell) points out that, weirdly enough, it was the president who laid the foundation for such education savings accounts when he sponsored the current program, a more limited scheme that limits parents to contributing a paltry $500 per year, tax-free, toward college expenses.

Backers of the Coverdell-Torricelli plan argue it could shift $12 billion of private capital into education -- the real kind, the kind parents actually choose and pay for -- and that the main beneficiaries would be middle-class families with children in the public schools.

"This can't be a bad idea simply because it is a Republican idea," explains Sen. Torricelli, who predicts that 10 of the 45 Senate Democrats will vote for it.

But (need we say?) an administration whose leader launches each campaign by traveling to the convention of the National Education Association and promising the union teachers everything they want, does not agree.

"It was bad education policy before, it is bad education policy now," intones Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. The bill "offers little or no practical benefit," for the vast majority of the nation's students who attend public schools, drones Education Secretary Richard Riley.

Really? A man whose job is supposedly to promote learning, actually holds that allowing parents to set up tax-free IRAs for expenses related to educating their children offers "little or no practical benefit"?

Is it "the children" Secretary Riley is seeking to protect, or the monopoly of the current educrats?

Democratic inaugurals of late have featured many a Politically Correct pop star singing the First Couple's favorite tunes. Now perhaps we know why Cyndi Lauper has never been included.

She's the one who sings: "I see your true colors, shining through."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.

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