Expanded Choice, My Foot!
Originally published inThe Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 3, April 1996
Just for once let's pretend we are all at some kind of educational meeting where Political Correctness is banned in favor of genuine honesty, and no holds are barred where the consideration of "free" school funding is concerned. Going farther, let's all admit we aren't poverty stricken, and that we all freely chose to become parents about six or seven years before our offspring became of school years.
Still farther, let's also admit we knew even back then that no such thing as costless schooling actually exists; that we knew enough about human biology to understand how procreation works, and that methods of postponing conception, ancient and modern, were available to us. Which means we all got our full quota of Expanded Choice when we originally decided how many kids to have.
Ready? The meeting's about to start. And please pay attention, because what's under the gun here is the essential lunacy of the nation's oldest and largest and most sacred cow welfare program. You know the one I mean: it's the one that "respectable" modern parents have gotten in line for, including many conservatives who holler loudest about the need for solid family values. Also among its clients are a surprising number of self-styled libertarians, and people from all quarters who have made a habit of sneering at conventional welfare queens and the like.
The main item on the meeting's agenda is a review of how this foolishness works, and how it has been manipulated by a coalition of parents, politicians, and professional educationists ever since your great-great grandpa toddled off to his local public school in the family buggy. This review — if it's going to be an honest one as advertised — must start with all of us parents admitting there is something decidedly corrupt about how all this "free" money is collected.
Here's how the wretched thing actually works. Primarily for the purpose of perpetuating a set of archaic and authoritarian compulsory attendance laws, no set of parents ever is assessed any kind of user fee or tuition payment, no matter how many children they chose to beget. Instead the funding mechanism is rigged to include every kind of innocent bystander taxpayer on God's green earth, ranging from business owners to landlords to tourists to whatever.
Then things degenerate still more. That's because even non-parent taxpayers are dragooned into feeding this insatiable school animal. Followed by (and this seems especially obscene) those fully responsible parents who either home school or make peaceable arrangements for private schooling. All of which is bad enough, but there's still more.
To use the formal economic phrase, this welfare program is a peculiarly open-ended one. Open-ended in the sense that no parent ever has to answer any of those standard welfare questions relating to the family's income or assets. With the embarrassing result that even millionaires are eligible for this handout. Which may be why this scam lately has acquired — and decidedly deserves — the nickname Welfare For The Wealthy.
And finally there is this. Despite the warm and fuzzy propaganda to the contrary, there can be no real doubt about the fact that the "free" mechanism actually destroys the genuine spirit of community rather than nourishing it. Indeed, given all the forced takings and manipulation involved, how could it do otherwise?
Instead, what such a coercive device does is to promote a never ending political war of All Against All — an ugly dogfight wherein each subset of welfare parents is pitted against every other subset where money is concerned. And wherein older taxpayers are milked to support school budgets that do nothing but grow and grow and grow. All of which is about as anti-community as it can get.
End the hypocrisy
But enough of that. The essential point here — the only point worth mentioning if we self-chosen parents are to be considered more honest than old Jesse James — is that things like honesty, personal responsibility, and peaceable behavior are the primary scholastic virtues. They actually are what good schooling is all about; it follows that the schools must not only preach them but also practice them as well. Anything less is not only hypocritical but, in the long run, counterproductive. After all, what's the real worth of an American diploma if it comes from some institution financed along the lines of a Bulgarian collective or a Soviet-style commune?
So let's get our parental priorities straight here, starting with the one which states that parenthood does not in any sense equate with political victimhood. For honesty's sake let's not waste any time or energy on cutesy little cosmetic gimmicks such as tax-funded tuition vouchers and the like, gimmicks which will do nothing but perpetuate and legitimize all this 19th century "free" garbage. Instead let's proceed to do, gradually perhaps but inescapably, what we know to be the right thing. That is to say, let's get on with the job of inventing a privately funded schooling system — one wherein each set of parents takes on those responsibilities they chose when they first chose to become mothers and fathers. It's the only honorable way to go.
Thank you all for coming. The meeting is adjourned.
Jack Simons is a former school board chairman from Sheffield, VT, where he and a one-eyed dog named Slick Willie watch in amazement while a great many otherwise nice and sophisticated people perpetuate the 19th century fable of "free" school funding.
This article is copyrighted by the Alliance for the Separation of School & State. Permission is granted to freely distribute this article as long as this copyright notice is included in its entirety.
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