Diversity could begin at home
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, September 29, 1992
Colorado, long a bellwether state for public policy innovation, is again at center stage. This time it’s education: Colorado is the nation’s second state to permit its citizens to vote for educational choice.
A “yes” vote for Amendment 7 on Nov. 3 will give families a voucher worth $2,100 for every school-age child to send them to the school of their choice. This will give poor and middle-class families the same kinds of choices that now only rich kids have. They can use their vouchers to stay in their local public schools, move to other public schools where the curriculum is more to their liking, or use their vouchers to go to a private or parochial school.
A “yes” on Amendment 7 will set up a system like the hugely successful GI Bill after World War II. The GI Bill gave vouchers to returning GIs so they could go to the college or technical school of their choice.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the federal government had given the money to universities along with a top-down directive to go find education-hungry GIs?
First, the Feds would have set up “accountability committees” to make sure the schools were really trying to find GIs. Next, the government would have mandated a “cooperative decision-making” process to encourage “GI involvement” in the development of the curriculum. Then the government would have deployed a massive testing program to make sure schools selected to receive money were really teaching GIs what they needed to know.
Does all this sound familiar? Of course it does. This kind of stifling, top-down, mind-numbing, expert-driven and expensive bureaucratic system is exactly what we now have in one of America’s few remaining monopolies: the public schools.
In Colorado, the godfathers of the public school monopoly – the teachers union (though not all of the teachers), the association of superintendents and principals, and the school boards – have organized to oppose giving parents more choices in education.
One of the godfathers said vouchers are the “first step in dismantling public education.” In fact, vouchers will allow public education to expand by including many new education providers. Just because education is delivered by a private or parochial school doesn’t mean it cannot be a vital part of our system of public education. Interstate highways are built by private vendors (called construction companies), but they are still public roads.
Providing public education through a network of public and private vendors doesn’t make it any less public. It makes it more diverse and more American.
What makes public education is public funding and the adherence to certain minimum standards, which accredited private and parochial schools already do. Letting schools compete is also a much better way to get innovation in education – much better than setting up a $50 million education innovation slush fund to be doled out by educrats and politicians, which is another proposal on the Colorado ballot, called Amendment 6.
Amendment 6 is top-down, tax first-reform later, business-as-usual, bureaucratic approach. Amendment 7 is a bottom-up, pro-family, pro-diversity , pro-choice, pro-reform approach.
Colorado voters have an unusual opportunity to send a message to the nation: no more taxes and no more spending for the education bureaucracy until it cleans up its act. That means achieving innovation through competition and giving choices to everyone, not just the rich.