I don’t know if you’ve been following the conversation that two of my readers Jake and Mike are having over on my "More on School Choice" post, but I’ve really been challenged by their thinking. Both are clearly delinating two alternative positions about what is quickly becoming a critical issue in education. Their thoughts are worth a read for everyone involved in educational policy conversations.
Jake Savage, who blogs over at The Stackable Bards, argues in favor of school choice as a means of driving change in education—and perhaps more importantly, giving parents more control over how their tax dollars are spent—when he writes:
Under the current system, money is taken from everyone and then spent at the government’s discretion. Under a school choice system, the same amount of money (or less) would be taken from everyone and then spent at the discretion of each child’s parents….[this] gives people more say in how the government spends their money.
Of course, there are methods of school funding that would be even more conservative and free market focused, including tuition tax credits and simply removing the redistributive aspect altogether by eliminating public funds. The latter is not at all likely given the general public’s belief in education as a right and a public good. The former has the benefit of enabling more efficient pricing of education, but may also be unpalatable to many.
Regardless, any school choice program is more "conservative" than a system that is entirely government-run.
Mike—who has got to be blogging somewhere because he’s brilliant—argues against school choice as a diversion of tax dollars to organizations that are not being held to the same standards as public schools when he writes:
Bedrock conservative principle is absolute minimal government involvement in the personal lives of its citizens. Conservatives generally concede that public schools are necessary and allowable under that principle. Therefore, conservatives have…no difficulty, understanding the necessity of schools, with supporting them through some public means. They may quibble over the best and least intrusive means, but the general practice ruffles few conservative feathers.
One cannot argue that conservatives would then support the taking of the public funds they know are necessary for the schools for any alternate form of education one might prefer….Conservatives know that the power to dissimenate funds is a mighty power, and that when one accepts government funding rather than relying on their own means, they are empowering government and weakening themselves…
School choice is merely one of many euphemisms for the diversion of public tax money to private ends which in some circumstances, might well be unconstitutional…Conservatives are very much for the accountability of government, particularly in its use of tax funds. Giving money to certain favored individuals with few or no means of accounting for its use–and this is exactly what those who support "school choice" want…–is anything but conservative."
Let’s continue this conversation. Where do you stand on school choice? Leave us a comment to share your thinking. It’ll be fun to see how we polish our positions. Articulating your point of view will force you to reflect—and challenge others at the same time. It’s a two-for-one bargain I hope you won’t pass up!