Choices chances: Tax-funded schools without strings attached?
by Greg Swann
Charter schools are small businesses in the education business. They have the same problemscash flow, contractsthat small businesses run into.
So says Leo Condos, attorney for the ATOP Academy College Preparatory School in Phoenix. But ATOP has a problem that most small businesses dont run into: State oversight.
In addition to the normal problems of small businessoverdue rent and unpaid billsATOP has not complied with the financial reporting requirements imposed upon all Arizona charter schools. It is this failure, and not any ordinary small business problems, that may result in the school being shut down later this month.
Some would regard this as a blessing: The school has played fast and loose with state requirements since its charter was approved. Some would regard it as a curse: ATOP serves a minority population that the education establishment politely refers to as being at risk.
Either way, the school faces a peril that could never confront a private school nor any private business. A business might be closed by its owners and it might be foreclosed upon by its creditors, but it wouldnt have to answer to a state board of overseers. Ironically, a public school, no matter how horribly mismanaged, would also never face ATOPs fate.
But ATOP is the exception, charter defenders would insist, and this is true. Arizona has more than 300 charter schools, with many more in the pipeline. The overwhelming majority of them are solvent and fully-compliant with the for-now minimal state regulations, and a few of them are among the very best academic schools in the state. Arizona has the best charter school laws in the United States, fiercely defended by the Center for Market Based Education, a spin-off of the Goldwater Institute, and more than half of all U.S. charter schools are in Arizona.
But consider this: In this session of the Arizona State Legislature, legislation was introduced that would have crippled and ultimately killed charter schools as a for-profit alternative to public schooling. The legislation failed, but it is hard to imagine that the public education monopoly and the teachers unions will give up and go away.
What is worse, the only truly private schools left in Arizona are parochial schools and the price-restrictive redoubts of the very wealthy. The evidence of experience argues that those who oppose parental choice in education will nibble away at the charter schools, one niggling regulation at a time. In due course, the charters will either be outlawed or absorbed into the public school system or they will be so compromised by regulation as to make no difference.
Charter schools, tax-credits, vouchers, tax-abated savings accounts, it all comes down to the same thing: If the state has the power to withhold the funding, the state has the power to dictate the curriculum. Presidential candidate Gary Baeur has actually floated the idea of vouchers for homeschoolers, which would destroy the very last refuge of freemeaning unchainededucation.
In the accompanying article, Llewellyn Rockwell demonstrates how horribly compromised is the purportedly parents choice voucher program recently signed into law by Florida Governor Jeb Bush. This was all foreseen in horrifying detail by Richard Mitchell, the Cassandra of American education.
Parents choice paid for by anything other that parents money emerging directly from parents pockets is a fools paradise in the long run. The tax-funded education apparatus is expert at only one thing: Co-opting and corrupting and destroying and devouring all opposition to itself. State-funded education is ruled by its own invisible hand, one possessed of an anti-Midas touch: Everything it touches eventually turns to dross. All that charters and vouchers will do is destroy the private schools, every one of them that touches the states money.
So what is left for guerrilla schoolers? Pam Probst, writing for the Separation of School and State Alliance, has a number of good suggestions for long-term political action. But in pursuit of your own childrens education, you are left with the alternatives youve always had: homeschooling, private schools or the public schools. Its possible you can sneak your children through the charter schools, if you are lucky enough to live where the laws are still relatively reasonable, but that rug can be pulled out from under you at any time, and it is certain that it eventually will be pulled out.
Perhaps surprisingly, the public schools can provide a rigorous education for your children. This is often true in very wealthy communities, but it can also be true in middle class districts.
It is a cynical truth that the education monopoly will fight reform by any dirty, underhanded trick it can think of. One of its cutest tricks is to create so-called magnet schools, public schools that actually provide a serious, rigorous academic education. The realpolitik purpose of these schools is twofold: First, they ghettoize all those troublesome parents (and teachers) who demand schooling from the schools. And second, they raise the standardized testing scores for the entire district without changing anything anywhere else.
Its important to understand that these magnet schools will not last either. They are a sopa bribecalculated to siphon off combatants from the main battle, the battle against charters and vouchers and other pesky reforms. Once those foes are well and truly vanquished, the magnet schools will be absorbed back into the mire. This is as it must be so long as there is any such thing as tax-funded education.
But taking account the guerrillas tactical objectivethe pursuit of the best possible education for your children nowa magnet school may be your optimum choice.
Go to the head of the class
Voucher, smoucher (February 1981)
by Richard Mitchell
There is very little to be gained and much to be lost in assuring, through education voucher schemes or tuition tax credits, that the public school system will become entirely what it is now only partlythe last, futile hope of the permanently dispossessed and disabled. We say this with testy reluctance, and certainly not, as regular readers will know, because we can see any hope that the jargon-besotted and uneducated tribes of educationists and teacher-trainers will ever provide the land with literate and thoughtful citizens, but because there is no chance at all that credits or vouchers would destroy or even mitigate the government schools, which have proven again and again that they can easily digest and transform into nourishment any complaint brought against them. As the better and luckier studentsand teachersescape, our cunning educationists will have no trouble persuading the same old agencies and legislatures that they now need even more money. But the voucher and credit schemes probably will destroy the worth of the private schools.
To see why, we must consider some popular, widely preached misunderstandings:
The public schools could provide better education if we gave them more money. This is false. We give them far too much money. They spend it on gimmicks and gadgets and programs and proposals and whole legions of apparatchiks and uneducated busybodies and Ladies Bountiful manquées. The private schools just dont have that kind of money. Thats why theyre often so much better. If we were to enrich the private schools, most of them would hire the recently disemployed values clarification facilitators and start offering courses in environmental awareness enhancement and creative expression of self-as-individual-self through collage. In a few years, we would have thousands of private schools just as bad as the public schools are now. Furthermore, bad private schools, unlike bad public schools, can do as they damn well please just as long as they can find buyers for what they choose to sell, and they will care no more for our opinions, or yours, than the mongers of obscene T-shirts care about our quaint canons of taste. The people who run the government schools can at least be ridiculed and humiliated in public.
All of that must be seen in the darkness cast by another popular misunderstanding: Parents should be free to choose for their children whatever kind of education they think best. This is not false, for it asserts only a special case of that right to the pursuit of happiness to which we are supposed to be committed. It is, however, irrelevant and (perhaps) unintentionally cynical, for it presumes the possibility of free choice in countless millions of innocent citizens who have themselves been educated by the life-adjustment slogan-mongers, and who have come to think that a good education is an indoctrination in their pet notions and beliefs rather than someone elses. Their choices of schools for their children will be no more the fruit of informed and thoughtful discretion than their choices of deodorants and designer jeans. The support they might withdraw, through vouchers or credits, from one pack of fools and charlatans they would fork over to another of the same, which, furthermore, will usually be an ad hoc reconstitution of the first pack, now happily embarked on what is for them just one more obviously profitable, bold, innovative thrust.
We can understand the angry desperation out of which even thoughtful citizens can propose, as remedy for the ills caused by one governmental contraption, yet another governmental contraption. And any system for credits will be exactly that, a wholly owned subsidiary of the state and a bureaucratic agency for the propagation of ideology and the enforcement of standards. And the standards will be devised not by the enthusiasts of vouchers, who dont really know exactly what they want anyway, but by the same old coalition of educationists and unionists and politicians and social engineers and manufacturers of gimmicks and publishers of pseudo-books, who do know exactly what they want, and exactly how to get it.
It is simply naive to imagine that our government, or any government anywhere, will construe tax credits or vouchers as a way of letting its citizens keep, and spend as they please, some of their own money. Such devices will be thought of as subsidies, and loftily denounced, especially by those whose livelihoods depend entirely on perpetual subsidization of the public schools, their pandemic problems, and their Byzantine and costly governance, as handouts of public money. Should credits or vouchers be provided by law, the same law would have to provide, as quid pro quo to a tremendous and noisy lobby of government employees, that most of the policies and practices that make the private schools what they are would suddenly become illegal. When private schools are required to hire certified graduates of state teacher academies, and to offer all the mandated mickeymousery of social adjustment disguised as studies, and to make sure that the ninth-grade textbook for Appreciation of Alternative Lifestyles doesnt use any tenth-grade vocabulary words, then the erstwhile voucherites will long for the good old days, when you could at least get what you paid for, and when the private schools actually were an alternative to government education.
Those voucher and credit schemes were probably not cooked up by a conspiracy of educationists. Those people arent that smart. But you just cant beat them for luck.
Go to the head of the class
by Llewellyn Rockwell (reprinted with permission; ©1999 by Llewellyn Rockwell; do not republish without permission)
For years, the Right has promoted educational vouchers as an alternative to public schools. This has always been a delusion. The schools that take vouchers become the province of government regulators, while the money for the vouchers is taken out of the hide of taxpayers already being looted for public schools. Vouchers increase, not reduce, government involvement in education.
Take a gander at the recently implemented and much-heralded Florida voucher program. Kids with good or even passable academic records are not eligible. Only the worst students from the worst public schools are allowed to use the voucher. Some voucher proponents hope to see this program expanded to everyone, but that still would not address the real issue.
Leave aside their discriminatory impact and cost, and consider only their effect on schools themselves. At best, vouchers are an expensive attempt to reinvent the public schools, a doomed effort. At worst they are an attempt to force private schools to operate exactly like the public schools. Considering all the red tape the private school subjects itself to, they are a giant step in the wrong direction. (You can read the 181-page Florida law here.)
After the government gets through with them, these private schools might as well be public schools. They must:
- file huge and ongoing financial reports to the state (no internal privacy);
- submit to all federal anti-discrimination laws (no single sex or faith-based schools);
- accept scholarship students on an entirely random and religious-neutral basis without regard to the students past academic history (dumb bunnies and Wiccans must be given the red carpet);
- only employ or contract with teachers who hold a baccalaureate or higher degree, or have at least 3 years of teaching experience in public or private schools (loving Moms need not apply);
- accept as full tuition and fees the amount provided by the state for each student (read: price controls);
- agree not to compel any student attending the private school on an opportunity scholarship to profess a specific ideological belief, to pray, or to worship (read: no independent curriculum);
- grant the government veto power over disciplinary procedures, such that no vouchered student can be kicked out.
We are talking about mountains of paperwork here, and a sacrifice of all independence. Its understandable that only a few private schools in Florida have been willing to subject themselves to the regulators. Lets hope that those who refuse this control dont face financial constraints that will suck them into the voucher system.
The solution to this problem is not to repeal the regulations. So long as public money is involved, the government will always run the show as artists have surely figured out by now. The public, in fact, is right to expect some accountability in the way tax dollars are spent. The solution is to draw a strict line of separation between school and state by never permitting their finances to mix.
But dont vouchers save money? Actually, the opposite is true. The Florida voucher plan will increase spending over present levels by $1.2 billion. Moreover, any money that is saved on tuition is not returned to the taxpayers but dumped back into the public school system. Making matters worse, public schools declared bad enough to permit their students to attend welfarized private schools get increased government funding. All told, taxpayers are going to be pillaged.
No wonder the Left is increasingly interested in vouchers. Its a big-government program that increases, not reduces, the role of government in education, and will turn any institution taking vouchers into a carbon copy of state schools themselves. For example, the notoriously liberal Urban League of Miami argues for the constitutionality of vouchers, even though under federalism, their constitutionality shouldnt be in question (as versus their wisdom). What the Urban League likes is the welfarist aspect of the program. Its food stamps for education.
Writing in the July 1999 Atlantic Monthly, liberal commentator Matthew Miller chides the Left for not seeing the inherent advantages of vouchers. They increase education spending, give preferences to the poor, and subject private schools to public control. From the socialist perspective, he asks, whats the problem? Good question.
The real mystery is why conservatives, libertarians, or religious activists would cheer the Florida or any other voucher plan. Perhaps they have begun to believe their own neoconservative rhetoric about educational inequality, the plight of the poor who cant afford fancy schools, and the unjust privileges given those who can afford good schools. Notice how it is the schools, rather than the little darlings in them, that are always at fault?
As a thought experiment, Miller proposes a new federal $8 billion spending program, so bad students in six big cities can take their Fs and sometimes criminal behavior to private school at our expense. Incredibly, in interviews, Miller got Republican candidate-in-perpetuity Lamar Alexander and libertarian lawyer Clint Bolick of DCs Institute for Justice to endorse the idea. Again, thats a wholly new $8 billion federal program, endorsed by a self-proclaimed conservative and libertarian!
If American education is to have a future, its not through more government spending, control, and centralization. It is through increased local and private spending and control. The ideal is zero government involvement. Why does any freedom lover have to be reminded of that?
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.
Go to the head of the class
Find out more...
If anyone can make parents choice work, its the Center for Market Based Education. The nut-and-bolts of tax-funded education reform are detailed by The Center for Education Reform. Alas, the objections raised by Llewellyn Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute are probably insuperable. In any case, the movement put in motion by the Separation of School and State Alliance is always in order.
Richard Mitchells entire corpus is available on the internet. His books are free on-line, but nonetheless they demand a high payment: You must pay attention. You can find them at: http://members.aol.com/hu4wahz/ug/index.html. Much better news, Mitchells books are coming back into print. The Gift of Fire, his finest work, is available in a hand-bound collectors edition from Bob Shubert. And Less Than Words Can Say, has just been re-issued by The Akadine Press. They plan to publish more of Mitchells books in the coming months.
Go to the head of the class
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