Opinion: Universal school choice is clearest pathway to restore nation to former greatness
Gov. Chris Christie delivers the keynote address at the National School Choice Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, in this file photo. (Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger) Print By The Star-Ledger on March 24, 2014 at 5:25 AM
By Israel Teitelbaum
Unlike any of the programs identified today as “school choice,” such as opportunity scholarships, charter schools and tax credits, universal school choice transfers control of education back to parents, where it rightfully belongs, by allowing public education funds to follow the child to the school chosen by the parents. These funds — substantially less than current costs but sufficient to pay for a quality education at nonpublic schools — are made available to every parent in the form of a voucher that can be cashed only by a qualified school. With parental control comes responsibility — a prerequisite to success in any endeavor.
The late, world-renowned economist Milton Friedman first proposed universal school choice in his 1955 treatise “The Role of Government in Education,” where he compared education to other services: “In most industries, consumers are free to buy the product from anyone who offers it for sale, at a price mutually agreed on. In the process, consumers determine how much is produced and by whom and producers have an incentive to satisfy their customers. These competitive private industries are organized from the bottom up. They have been responsible for truly remarkable economic growth, improvements in products and increased efficiency in production.”
Limited school choice programs around the country offer a glimpse into what to expect from a universal voucher program. The nation’s first school voucher program — limited to poor parents — for which Milwaukee residents battled from 1980 to 1990, has become a showcase for all America. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist points to the importance of quality schools in improving city life. He cites the voucher program for having given low-income families the chance to send their children to their pick among participating schools. He suggests that further expansion of the program, including removal of income limits that will allow everyone to participate, will result in Milwaukee becoming “the best place in the entire state of Wisconsin for K-12 education.”
The Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, passed by the Bush administration in 2003, is no less revealing. Although these vouchers are valued at only $8,000, compared to the average per-student cost for the D.C. public schools of $29,409, the students using the vouchers have a graduation rate of 91 percent compared to 56 percent for those in D.C.’s public schools.
Education serves as the nursery of all society. Families serve as the fabric of all society. Just as families are not suited to defend the nation against foreign enemies, so is government unsuited to properly raise and educate our children. All the moral and civil challenges we face in the raging culture war are directly traceable to our top-down education system, where the interests of government bureaucrats clash with those of families.
The hearts and minds of children are not open to compromise. Their feelings, attitudes and principles are not subject to division. A child cannot be a free-thinking nonbeliever in school and a saint at home. The healthy development of children and families is best served with maximum harmony between teacher and child.
The clearest pathway to restore our nation to its former greatness — with domestic tranquility, maximum liberty and minimal government intrusion into our personal lives — is to quickly implement universal school choice. The ideal place to begin is in our nation’s capital, which comes directly under the jurisdiction of Congress.
The success of the D.C. scholarship program is proof positive that universal school choice will greatly improve educational quality at a fraction of the cost. It will also serve as a model and trailblazer for all 50 states. There is now a proposal before leading school choice advocates in Congress and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to sponsor and champion universal school choice legislation for D.C.
Similar legislation in New Jersey will save taxpayers billions annually, as public schools are compelled to compete with nonpublic schools. A 2010-2011 audit by Common Sense Institute of New Jersey revealed runaway costs at New Jersey public schools — more than $39,000 annually per child in Asbury Park and $40,000 in Sea Isle City, for example.
In 2005, Milton Friedman summed up his half-century of school choice advocacy in the article “School Vouchers Turn 50, But the Fight is Just Beginning.” His final published words on this, one year prior to his passing:
“Most major public policy revolutions come only after a lengthy build-up of support. But when the break comes, what had been politically impossible quickly becomes politically inevitable. So it will be with the goal of a competitive free market education system compatible with our basic values.”
The Obama administration’s new budget calls for defunding the D.C. scholarship program. This is the perfect time for those of us who cherish liberty to call our friends in Washington (202) 224-3121 and respectfully insist they sponsor and champion the proposed D.C. Civil Act for Equal Educational Opportunity, to provide a school voucher for every Washington, D.C., student, valued at half current school costs, and the savings allocated to reduce the national debt.
Israel Teitelbaum is secretary of Alliance for Free Choice in Education. He can be reached at Israel@SchoolChoiceNJ.org.