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Government schools vs. parents' rules

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Government schools vs. parents' rules
by Kurt St. Angelo
@2005 Libertarian Writers' Bureau

I usually hold up Indiana’s constitution for the libertarian principles that it embodies, such as individual liberty and self-responsibility. However, in the area of education, Indiana’s constitution is downright communitarian or, shall I say, socialistic.

Article VIII, Section 1 says that the General Assembly shall provide “a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.” This means that the state has a responsibility to provide education. It also means that every person in Indiana has a constitutional civil right to a public education, for which others must pay. This is the essence of socialism.

There are only two ways our state government can fulfill this education mandate. The first is the way we do it today – in the model of state-run Soviet socialism. Under this regime, the state government controls teachers, curriculum and capital assets, which are education’s so-called means of production.

This is analogous to the Soviet government’s control of energy, natural resources, factories and manpower in its failed production of just about everything. Government schools offer an inferior educational product at nearly twice the price per student compared to private and parochial schools.

There is a reason for poor performance. It’s called lack of competition. No one can control spending and improve quality within a monopolistic system that has no true competitors. If politicians didn’t prop them up by excluding competition, government schools would likely wither away like Soviet state factories.

The other kind of educational system – call it voucher education – would serve us much, much better. Like the original G.I. bill, this policy provides that government pay for education, but not necessarily provide it. This is good for no other reason than government does very little well – which is an especially critical issue when it involves our children.

In a voucher system, parents could chose to what public or approved schools to send their children. For example, students with interests in music or science could select schools with music or science profiles. Other students may pick schools based on special needs. Vouchers mean being able to chose from a variety of schools, given children’s varied needs and interests.

In a voucher system, schools would compete for not only tax dollars, but also for the best teachers. No longer could the state require schools to hire only teachers with the same teaching credentials. Doctors, lawyers and practicing scientists could finally teach without the stamp of approval by some lesser-educated bureaucrat.

With vouchers, each school would be its own self-governing entity, and every student would be given an equal civil right to an equally gratifying education, regardless of his or her background, financial status or neighborhood. Inherent in a voucher system are the principles of efficiency, equality and freedom of choice.

Not surprisingly, Sweden provides universal voucher education for its students. Swedish parents may send their children to any school – government or independent – without paying fees. In only a few years, this policy has inspired an enormous growth in innovative independent schools and encouraged improvements to municipal schools.

Here in America, despite its reputation as the champion of equality, the Democratic Party is one of voucher education’s fiercest opponent. This is because vouchers threaten teacher unions, who put the job security, pay and other special interests of their members ahead of the best interests of our children and communities.

Vouchers offer choice, competition and entrepreneurship in education, which are three things missing in our present Soviet delivery system. Vouchers are likely the only way to not only improve public education, but to save it from its decaying old self.

About the Author

Attorney, screenwriter and Libertarian Party activist in Indianapolis


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