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Another spin on school choice

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 24, 2003

The system of public education in America is a complete disaster. Few people disagree with that assessment. Faith-based schools have proven their value in educating children and instilling in those children the civic virtues which are as essential as education itself to a healthy national culture.

Leftists reflexively oppose support for education which indirectly may provide funds to church schools, synagogue schools and parochial schools, based upon the dull Leftist mantra "There must be a wall between religion and government."

Charter schools offer a better approach, but these seem more separate from government than most Leftists like. Is there another approach to school choice? Yes, there is, and we should begin to push this approach vigorously.

How does the public school system operate in America today? School districts, which are typically autonomous units of government, provide all the public school options in a particular geographical area.

If this public school district is run well, then the parents and children are happy. But if this public school district is run poorly, then parents and children of poor and middle class parents can either pay for private schools or move into districts with good schools. Both options cost more money than most Americans can afford.

Public education is right of each American. That means government must provide education to everyone. But which government provides this education? We ought to say "All governments provide a means of education."

Competition always makes things better, and that includes competition among governments. Our federal system provides fifty sovereign states which can compete to provide the best blend of services, expenditures and taxes possible for its citizens. States that over-tax, under-protect or over-regulate lose money and congressional seats.

Within states, there are other levels of government competition. Cities compete with other cities. Rural areas compete with urban areas. This competition compels governments to care not only about the political vote of each citizen, but the marketplace vote of each citizen concerning where he works, where he shops and where he lives.

The vast majority of Americans live under four overlapping levels of government: federal, state, county and municipal. These layers of government often compete in providing higher education. State universities, city colleges, county learning centers and federal academies each vie for college students to choose their institutions.

It is even common for different state universities within a particular state to compete with each other to provide education to the citizens of the state (or to people outside the state). The University of Texas, Texas A & M, and Texas Tech each provide state higher education to the people of Texas or anyone who may wish to attend these schools.

One way to improve public education would be to fund state, city, county and federal government school systems, which provided students with four different public school systems to attend in a particular area - four systems in addition to any autonomous school districts. So students might have public schools run by five different governments to choose.

What would this provide? Choice! Competition! Shopping! And this is what Leftists most fear. Government is simply one of best tools Leftists have found to enslave us. Hollywood and the broadcast industry, after all, are non-governmental - and they have long been the bastion of Leftism.

Aside from just competition, having multiple players in the public education field would allow some genuine innovation. Some county school system, for example, might hold school year and have evening classes instead of day classes. Some state might introduce interactive video classrooms, so that students would not miss school because of snow days or physical disabilities. Competition among governments would produce real creativity and serious thinking.

Redundancy in government operations is often portrayed as wasteful, but often it is a check upon government abuses. Most urban areas, for example, have municipal police, county sheriffs, state polices, and federal law enforcement. Each of these, to some extent, operates as a check on the others. Each asserts its independence from the others.

Moreover, different levels of government are also responsive to different groups of voters. City school systems would try to appeal to city voters, county school systems to voters throughout the county, and so forth. This would make it much easier to have real differences in public instruction. Leftists like public schools - great! - let us give them not just one system of public school for our children, but four different school systems. Leftists ought to love that, right?

The only problem for Leftists is that it might work. Educated and independent minds are the nightmare of every Leftist oligarch from Dan Rather to David Souter.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Better education through vouchers by Paul M. Weyrich (September 1, 2003)
    Paul Weyrich thinks Trent Franks' Children's Hope Act will do much good in American public schools and most importantly will help children
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