Topic: Education and Child Policy

Just like Ohio’s Children, Gov. Strickland Needs a Good Education

Ryan Boots over at Edspresso hits Ohio’s new Governor Ted Strickland  for claiming that vouchers are “inherently undemocratic.”  Strickland thinks that vouchers are “inherently undemocratic” because “they allow public dollars to be used in ways and in settings where the public has little or no oversight,” and “those who are paying those tax dollars have no ability to vote for a board of education or to make determinations regarding curriculum, or discipline or admission policies or a whole range of things.”

As Ryan points out, this just isn’t the case with the highly (over)regulated EdChoice program, which encumbers participating schools with an array of restrictions that ensure no real market in education services will arise to serve the needs of the neediest children.

Even if Strickland’s fantasy voucher program did exist, however, the current system of government schooling is less democratic and more prone to corruption.  The profligate spending, waste and outright fraud that characterize the government education system hardly suggest that it is subject to effective public oversight.

And for good reason … it is controlled by the education-industrial complex, aka “Big Ed,” which short-circuits all political attempts to direct it for the public good.  Big Ed controls board of education elections as well as “determinations regarding curriculum, or discipline or admission policies or a whole range of things.”  That’s why exasperated policy experts with no love of the free market are calling for parental choice in education and why parents are desperate to escape a system they pay for but can’t control.

But Strickland does hit on one good point, buried though it may be beneath a pile of misconceptions and delusions.  “Those who are paying those tax dollars” for education should be able to direct their money to the kind of education that they support.  Agreed.

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for kids to learn about condoms in the 3rd grade or abstinence-only in the 12th grade. Forcing all parents to educate their children in the same way is a recipe for irresolvable value conflicts and civic strife.   Disbursing general revenues for education forces some people to pay for education with which they disagree.

Education tax credits allow every taxpayer to support the kind of education they want to and force no one to pay for education to which they object.  Tax credits create a public education system where schools are accountable to the parents who choose them and the people who pay for them … not through a corrupt political process beholden to Big Ed, but directly accountable to the people themselves.

That is true oversight. That is a democratic system of education.  If Strickland can’t support vouchers, he certainly has no reason to oppose education tax credits.  Other than fealty to Big Ed over our children.

The Corrosion of Parental Rights

Today in the Oregon newspaper Bend Weekly, Phyllis Schlafly opines that “Congress should restore parental rights in public schools.” In the 35 years since I first heard Schlafly speak, I have rarely agreed with her on anything, but today is one of those occasions.

I certainly don’t believe in the substance of what she finds offensive, but I do agree that parents are being robbed of their rights to educate and bring up their children as they see fit. Of course, the answer is to abolish the public school system altogether, but until then, how do parents maintain even a minimal control over what their children are taught and exposed to in the public schools? 

Two things Schlafly proposes are appealing: She would like Congress to require public schools with human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programs to offer the vaccine only on a parental “opt in,” not “opt out,” basis and that no public school should be allowed to deny a child entry into school for not being immunized against HPV. She also believes Congress should require that schools get written parental consent before subjecting children to mental health screening.

For once, I hope Schlafly gets her way.

Republicans Remember Some of Their Principles

Great headline in the Washington Post today –

Dozens in GOP Turn Against Bush’s Prized ‘No Child’ Act

The good news is that

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate – including the House’s second-ranking Republican – will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush’s signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

The bad news is that even

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that advocates do not intend to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, they want to give states more flexibility to meet the president’s goals of education achievement, he said.

So even a small-government federalist like Jim DeMint isn’t willing to say that education is a family, community, or state responsibility, but not a federal responsibility. Still, weakening the mandates would be a real victory for decentralization and competition.

I particularly liked the comment from Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), author of the proposed House bill:

“President Bush and I just see education fundamentally differently,” said Hoekstra, a longtime opponent of the law. “The president believes in empowering bureaucrats in Washington, and I believe in local and parental control.”

Hoekstra, who spoke at last week’s Cato conference on reauthorization of the No Child act (at the end of the panel 1 video), sounds like he’s read Cato’s 2005 paper on the topic. Now he and DeMint should reread the paper and commit themselves to getting the federal government out of our local schools.

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh – Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, so this is personal.

Ohio used to have one of the lowest tax burdens in the country.  Now it has the third highest.  And, yes, that sucking sound is all the jobs going to other states.

After more than a decade of mismanagement and malfeasance under the control of an unprincipled tax-and-spend Republican Party, Ohio finally gave up and tried the other party last year.  They elected Democrat Ted Strickland as their new governor. (His opponent, Ken Blackwell, actually believes in and acts on the fiscal conservatism he ran on, but who can blame the voters for not buying it?).

Gov. Strickland laid out his budget plans in a speech yesterday, claiming he wants to do something the Republicans never did: cut spending!  (Of course the speech laid out some big new spending items, so I’m sure Ohio can look forward to more ballooning budgets and higher taxes, anyway).

Unfortunately, Gov. Strickland also proposed paying for this by gutting Ohio’s tiny voucher programStrickland is of course confused, because vouchers actually save money.  No matter, I’m sure that .08% of the budget will cover the Medicaid expansion!  Strickland also wants to put a moratorium on new charter schools and ban for-profit education management companies from running them.  (Andrew Coulson reviewed some of the reasons why killing educational freedom is such a demonstrably bad idea yesterday.)

If the Ohio Republican Party finds its principles and its spine, this just might be a time of great opportunity.

They can hold Strickland to his budget cuts, push for tax cuts, and pick a big fight over the Governor’s attempt to kill what little educational choice exists in Ohio.

The Republicans could even try to expand school choice by proposing education tax credits, which have received bipartisan support in other states.  The Democratic Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, just proposed an education tax deduction in his budget proposal.  Last year, the Democrat-control Rhode Island legislature passed an education tax credit program, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell expanded Pennsylvania’s program, and the Democratic Governor of Arizona signed a new tax credit program into law.

Education tax credits can save a lot of money, because the scholarship organizations provide just what a family needs to move their child from an expensive failing school to a better, more efficient private school.  So tax credits will help Gov. Strickland get control over the bloated Ohio budget.

Education tax credits are a bi-partisan win-win-win-fest!  I hope Ohio makes me proud to be a native son once again by passing them.

Ohio Governor Seeks to Kill Voucher Program

In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Ohio governor Ted Strickland called for the elimination of the statewide voucher program aimed at students in public schools deemed to be failing. He is also seeking to prevent the creation of any new charter schools and to outlaw for-profit firms from managing charter schools.

He went on to say that no new grocery stores should be opened in Ohio, that grocery stores should not be permitted to operate for profit, and that the state would be withdrawing from the federal foodstamps program.

Okay, I made that last paragraph up. But the only reason you knew that is because we are all familiar with the advantages of a competitive market for grocery stores, and with the fact that government can subsidize access to food without actually running its own supermarkets.

Researchers who study school governance structures in an international and historical perspective know that the same things that are true of the grocery business are also true of the education sector. Members of the public who frequent Cato’s website or read our publications know this as well.

Tragically, at least one very influential man from Ohio is wholly ignorant of these facts.

This is yet another argument for federalism and against national standards in education. If Ohioans choose to elect leaders who will unravel the progress they have made toward parental choice and competition between schools, their state will lose a competitive advantage it currently enjoys in attracting businesses and families. Other states that pursue greater freedom in education will attract more businesses and families. Eventually, states will have to stop operating education as a monopoly jobs program and start letting families decide – or gradually become economic and cultural backwaters.

But if we nationalize education – as so many Republicans and Democrats currently wish to do – a single backward administration or Congress could ruin education for the entire nation.

Folks who still support national standards after thinking about that should re-read the part of Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that deals with medieval Chinese naval capacity and technology, and the reasons these fell behind achievements in the West.

Burning Down the Horse

Matthew Yglesias has sparked an interesting debate over the No Child Left Behind act. It’s an internecine argument among the left-of-heart as to whether NCLB is:

a)     A Trojan Horse intended to destroy public education
2)     A well-intentioned mistake, or
iii)     The inevitably disappointing result of politics as usual

Matthew takes the second of those views, citing Cato scholars’ opposition to the law as evidence that we are… opposed to it. Seems a commendably straightforward line of reasoning to me, but one of his commenters, “Neil,” disagrees:

No, the libertarian think tanks are waiting quietly inside the horse; they will come pouring out waving their policy whitepapers only when the horse is safely within the gates and American schools are deemed to have failed.

Sorry, Neil, but Matthew’s right. Libertarian and free market scholars were loudly attacking government-imposed education standards long before the NCLB was passed, and have continued to do so thereafter. See, for instance, the section in my 1999 book Market Education titled “Government Imposed Curricula: Double-Edged Cookie Cutters.” And far from “waiting quietly inside the horse,” we had a forum at Cato last week at which I argued that the law is ineffective, harmful, inimical to the policies that can achieve its goals, and unconstitutional.

Anyone who checks out the videos or pod-casts of that event will see that at least the second and third explanations for the NCLB listed above are valid. Listen to Dick Armey telling the audience that Congress voted against national standards under Clinton and for them under Bush for partisan political reasons. Listen to Susan Neuman, who helped design the law, explain how good intentions went awry under political pressure.

Yglesias is mistaken, however, when he says that Cato wants to destroy public education. The opposite is true. My colleagues and I are deeply committed to the ideals of public education – that all children should have access to good schools; that they should be prepared not only for success in private life but participation in public life; that schools should foster harmonious social relations.

It is precisely because we are committed to those ideals that we recommend the adoption of a free education marketplace coupled with financial assistance to ensure universal access. Such a system is not an alternative to public education, it is a far better implementation of public education (to borrow terminology from my software past) than the creaking, calcified monopoly we languish under today.

Our current state-run school system is only a tool, not an end in itself. And it just happens to be the wrong tool for pursuing our shared ideals of public education.

Private Education in China — You Read It Here First

Bloomberg’s Singapore-based columnist Andy Mukherjee writes about the private-education boom in China:

At the end of 2005, some 15 million students were enrolled in 77,000 non-state schools. That’s 8 percent of the 197 million Chinese children aged 5 to 14 years. Privately funded schools in India have twice as large a share of the total market.

Expect the gap to close quickly.

Nine years ago, Ma Lei of Fudan University wrote about the growth of private schools in China for Cato Policy Report:

In Wenzhou, more than half of the 600 million RMB spent on education comes from the private sector. That’s a claim that few, if any, communities in the United States can make. …There are more than 2,300 privately run kindergarten classes in Wenzhou, in which more than 90 percent of all children of kindergarten age are enrolled. In addition, there are 21 private high schools, which educate about a quarter of the total high school student population.

James Tooley has also written at length about private education for the poor in Africa and India. His work, and its exciting new directions, are discussed in this Atlantic article.