Education is far too important for parents to leave in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. While I want to assume that most of the elected officials in Raleigh have children’s best interest at heart, a centralized education system cannot possibly meet the diverse needs of the children in North Carolina.
I have a vision for education. I see each county in NC having scores, maybe hundreds, of new small businesses – each striving to win customers by providing the value those customers want: a quality, comprehensive education. I see parents researching their options (something like a Consumer Reports for education) and debating whom to reward with their patronage. I see innovative newcomers entering the market trying to win customers with ideas and enthusiasm.
There is no reason, outside of the government’s need for control, for schools to have 1,000 or 2,000 or even 3,000 students. My vision is schools in storefronts, schools in churches, schools in office spaces, and all are financed by the same sort of folks who now build our bakeries, dairies, auto repair shops, churches, etc.
There will be schools requiring uniforms and schools without such restrictions. There will be all-girl, all-boy, and co-educational schools. Some schools will focus on math and science; others will have special music programs; some will specialize in computers; some will market to an agricultural base. In short, there will be every kind and variety of education that the market will bear.
(Variety: the “market” near my home provides me with the choice of 36 kinds of vinegar. I know. I took time to count them. I love America!)
All schools teach values. (Indeed, all adults around children do!) Some schools teach it openly, others by omission. The question is not what kind of values should be taught; the question is who should choose. When you ask the right question, the answer is easy: parents should choose.
Prayer in schools can be a very divisive issue. It always will be, so long as schools are run by bureaucrats, even local bureaucrats. Who wants a bureaucrat planning a prayer? They will either pander to the local majority religion (and offend all others), or they will be so politically correct and “inclusive” that they destroy the meaning.
But what if schools are independent of government, choosing what they teach based on the demands of their customers? Then prayer in school is no more controversial than prayer in church. With parents making the choices, the values taught in schools can be almost as good as those taught at home.
Does Choice Mean Vouchers?
Vouchers have received most of the “Choice School” press. Vouchers are fairly simple, not too different from food stamps. Politically, vouchers have a lot of pluses.
I’m sure that vouchers would be great, at least for their first few years. But vouchers do have one serious flaw: it’s the government’s money.
No, it’s not really the government’s money. It comes from taxpayers, after all. But politicians certainly act like it’s their money. They can’t resist trying to control people through the money they can dish out. I’m afraid that the temptation for politicians will be too great. Over time, little by little, politicians will impose regulations, restrictions, red tape, limits, “direction,” and bureaucracy. They always have the best of reasons, of course, correcting some “problem” that has made news, but with the result that the independence of the system gradually disappears.
I have a better plan.
The Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan (TCSP)
The practical effect of a voucher program is to have politicians dole out taxpayers’ money to students to pay for education. My question is, why not let the taxpayers direct their education dollars themselves?
The TCSP amounts to a tax credit. In practice, it means that a taxpayer has a choice to make about his or her state tax liability, be it twenty dollars or $20 million: who should get it? They can send it to Raleigh as usual for the bureaucrats and politicians to spend on current government schools.
Or, they can dedicate that money to a scholarship (or several scholarships) for students in North Carolina for primary or secondary education. My plan calls for a credit of up to $3,000 per student, but the amount will be negotiable when we get the legislature debating on how to implement the program.
Taxpayers would have three ways to choose:
- Direct the scholarship to a particular student.
- Give to a particular school, where students are signed up for the scholarships.
- Give to a charitable organization, which will find the students.
I suspect taxpayers will overwhelmingly choose the scholarship plan. We will run out of students before we run out of taxpayers wanting to exercise this new right.
Once again, the taxpayer could choose the TCSP instead of paying taxes to Raleigh.
How Much Would Education Improve?
The great thing about competition is that it’s not so much a plan as an environment that fosters and rewards innovation, enthusiasm, and energy. Competition is not “an improvement”; it’s a process of continuing improvement. Thus there is no limit to how good our schools can become.
The public schools will benefit too. Many students and teachers will remain in the public system for the foreseeable future. But competition benefits everybody; the pressure of a possible shrinking domain will cause public employees, almost as much as those in the private sector, to strive harder, experiment more, and reward excellence.
The material abundance provided by America’s free market is the envy of the world. We should expand it to include the most important service of education.
There are three good reasons to believe that educational opportunity will be more broadly available with the Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Plan (TCSP):
- TCSP empowers people, not politicians and bureaucrats, to make decisions. No system is perfect, but on the whole, people are better than the politicians they elect and far better than bureaucrats at deciding what products meet their individual needs.
- The option to taxpayers to control their money, instead of just pay, will be very enticing to people. That’s in addition to the natural charitable instinct. I’m sure we’ll find that there is more money offered than students to be found.
- Parental involvement is one of the strongest indicators of educational success. My TCSP requires a choice from parents. Making choices is the foundation and stimulus for involvement.
Excellence and More Excellence
Our great nation provides food, clothing, and shelter in great abundance for its people through a market economy. (Most people don’t realize just how rich we are when compared with the rest of the world.)
We can and should lead the world in education. A proven model is all around us. Help me bring the benefits of free market competition to the service of education.