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Government And School

School choice will improve education in America. Public schools are grossly
inefficient, and are not educating many of America’s youths adequately. Schools
that are run independent from local government bureaucracy provide better
education at lower cost. School choice would allow more students to attend
better schools. School choice is a potent educational reform that is far more
effective than increased spending. The fears of opponents of school choice are
factually unfounded. School choice is necessary to improve American education.

Through allowing more parental choice in education, school choice forces
education into a free market environment. As it is now, parents send children to
the nearest school, assigned to them by the school district. If a family is
wealthy enough and chooses to do so, parents can send children to private
schools. However, this family then pays twice for one education. They still pay
their taxes, and they pay the tuition for the private school. Under a school
choice plan, any parent who decides to send their child to a private school will
receive a scholarship from the government, redeemable for tuition at scholarship
accepting private schools. The scholarship dollar amount is far below that of
the average cost per student per year at public schools, but would allow
millions of parents who cannot presently afford private tuition to do so. If a
school performed poorly, parents would choose to remove their children, and then
send to them to better schools. If a school began losing all its students, and
therefore all its funding, the school would desire to improve. Under the current
system, government schools get your money whether they are doing a good job or
not. Milton Friedman was one of the first people to propose a school choice
plan. Since he did so over a quarter century ago, support has expanded rapidly.

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However, few plans for school choice have actually been enacted. The city of
Milwaukee enacted a program designed by future choice icon Polly Williams. She
asked the simple yet brilliant question, “Why not allow tax dollars to go
to the schools that are working?” (Harmer, 162) The plan does not allow
religious schools to participate, and allows only low-income children to take
part. Schools that participate can have no more than 49% of their students are
scholarship receiving students. The extremely limited scale demonstration has
had little effect on Milwaukee public schools, but has enabled many students to
attend better schools. The number of students in the choice program has grown
every year, in 1990 there were 341, in 1994 there were 846. (McGroarty, 36) In
California in 1993, the Parental Choice in Education Initiative was placed on
the ballot. The initiative was defeated by more than 2 to 1. However, proponents
were outspent by a factor of 4 to 1. Unions such as the AFL-CIO, Nation
Education Association, and California Teachers association raised over $17
million. Proponents raised only $4.1 million, and were left with only $2.5
million once they got the initiative on the ballot. (Harmer, 147) Demonstrators
attempted to physically prevent people from signing the petitions to get the
initiative on the ballot. People deliberately signed the petition multiple times
to hamper school choice efforts. One person signed 23 times. Principles and
teachers sent home anti-school choice information with children. School boards,
such as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), illegally used
public funds and forums to send an anti-choice message. From the standpoint of
well to do Washington, D.C. suburbs, a school choice plan may seem unnecessary.

Choice plans are not designed to help the upper-middle or upper class children.

David Harmer wrote, “In my travels as president of the Excellence through
Choice in Education League (ExCEL), I rarely met rich white suburban Republicans
who were desperate for alternative schools.” (Harmer, 114) They already get
a good education from government schools. However, rural poor and inner-city
children do not have that luxury. For example, in the city of Milwaukee, only
40% of freshman will eventually graduate from high school, and the average GPA
for students is a D+. (McGroarty, 30) School choice plans would help these
students the most. The people most involved in the education system are the ones
who most easily realize the problems of government schools. The Wall Street
Journal wrote that, “The California State Census Data Center, after
analyzing the 1990 Census, found that about 18.2% of the state’s public school
teachers send their children to private schools. That’s nearly twice the
statewide average for all households, which is 9.7%” (Harmer, 28) College
entrance exam scores have been dropping across the board, and the US often ranks
dead last in international comparisons among industrialized nations. From 1960
to 1992, the average SAT score dropped 76 points. If one were to include the
reenterings of the SAT test, scores would drop even further. (Harmer, 19) The
landmark study by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation
at Risk, claimed, “Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents
in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the
history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not
surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.”
(Harmer, 25) In addition academic failure, public schools are failing to produce
good citizens. According to a Tulane study, 20% of suburban high schooler’s
condoned shooting someone who had stolen something of theirs. (Harmer, 29) The
answer, contrary to what many education reformers claim, is not to throw more
money into schools. Only one nation in the entire world spends more money per
student, per year than the US, Switzerland. Japan, whose schools consistently
outperform those of the US, spends only half as much money per student.

Accounting for inflation, per student expenditure has increased 40 percent since
1982, and has tripled since 1960. (Harmer, 38) The image of the
“criminally-underfunded” public school is false. Class size has also
failed to improve education. The pupil teacher ratio declined from 25.8:1 in
1960 to 17.3:1 in 1991. Even in urban public schools, the ratio is as low as
17.9:1. (McGroarty, 16) The image of the over crowded inner city school is also
false. There is no relationship between spending and educational achievement in
grade schools. A recent comparison of per student expenditure and scores on the
National Assessment of Educational Progress tests by Forbes and Right Data
Associates found the correlation coefficient for a linear relationship between
spending and test scores to be 0.12. (This value could range from -1 to 1, the
closer the absolute value of the correlation coefficient is to 1, the stronger
the relationship.) (Brimelow, 52) Where does all the money go? In the LAUSD only
36 % of school funding is spent on teacher salaries, textbooks, and supplies.

Thirty-one people are paid over $100,000 a year, only one of which is a teacher.

Statewide in California, only 44 percent of the people employed by the school
system are teachers. In the independent schools in California, 86 percent of
school employees are teachers. (Harmer, 41-43) The situation is the same
nationwide. Researcher Michael Fisher found that only 25.7% of funds reach the
classroom in Milwaukee schools. (McGroarty, 21) It is plain to see that throwing
more money at schools and calling it reform won’t help the situation. Leaders of
the National Education Association and its statewide affiliates have done much
of the campaigning against proposed school choice plans. They represent the only
people who are set to lose because of school choice: the education bureaucrats.

Their jobs will no longer be guaranteed by a government monopoly. Many people
fear that schools supported by the new choice movements would be fly-by-night
institutions that are out to make a profit, teach racial and religious
discrimination, and condone violent behavior. However, legislative school choice
efforts have placed regulations on independent schools. The Parental Choice in
Education initiative in California contained the following items: (1) No school,
which discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, or national origin,
may redeem scholarships. (2) To the extent permitted by this Constitution and
the Constitution of the United States. The State shall prevent from redeeming
scholarships any school which advocates unlawful behavior; teaches hatred of any
person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin,
religion, or gender; or deliberately provides false or misleading information
respecting the school. (3) No school with fewer than 25 students may redeem
scholarships, unless the Legislature provides otherwise. These measures would
prevent fraud and discrimination. School choice does not condone discrimination.

Government already regulates private schools to some degree, and this would
definitely not decrease with the use of vouchers. Too many people are under the
opinion that private schools are all elite academies or preppy boarding schools,
both of which charge admission the price of a college education. However, 95
percent of Catholic schools, and 88 percent of Protestant schools charge tuition
under $2,500 a year. Robert Genetski said, “Average cost data for public
and private education indicate that in 1990 the operating cost per student for
kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools was $4,841, compared with
private school costs of $1,902.” (Harmer, 76) The truth is that even the
poorest of parents would be able to afford a private education with a school
choice plan. In legislative efforts for choice in California, parents would
receive a voucher for half the cost of public schools, which would completely
cover the costs of many adequate private schools. It is true that the government
would lose money by giving scholarships to students already attending private
schools. However, the government gains money by losing new students to private
schools, since only half of a students tax money follows the student. The
students that leave after school choice is enacted would provide a pool of money
that would more than cover current private school attendees. Furthermore, David
Harmer, author of the Parental Choice in Education initiative and School Choice:
Why You Need It, How You Get It, said that if he had to rewrite the initiative,
he would include a measure that would phase in school choice. Each year one new
grade would be allowed to participate, starting at Kindergarten, and ending with
grade 12. No students currently in private schools would benefit from school
choice. (Harmer, 178) Opponents of school choice fear that children with special
needs would be left out in the cold, since private schools would deny them
admission. However, special education is already dealt with by a voucher type
system. Public schools cannot meet the needs of many children, so the government
sends these children with special needs to private contractors, such as the
local School for Contemporary Education. Children who have special needs are
guaranteed an equivalent education by many state laws, and this would not change
under a school choice plan. Edd Doerr wrote that, “Despite repeated and
misleading claims to the contrary, vouchers are merely the latest in a long line
of attempts by sectarian special interests to channel public money to
church-related education institutions.” (Doerr, et al, 37) He conjures up
images of “government funded religious schools” that, horror of
horrors, teach religion. However, the GI Bill is constitutional! If a student
decides to spend money from the government on a religious education, it does not
mean that the wall between church and state has come tumbling down. Today
students use money from the GI Bill and Pell Grants at religious colleges
without any problem. Voucher plans are the exact same thing, except with younger
kids. George Bush even called his school choice plan the “GI Bill for
Kids.” To say that vouchers fund religious schools is to say that food
stamps are government funding of supermarkets. As to cultural balkanization,
school choice would not effect this at all. Religious or racial discrimination
is not allowed. The claim that society is held together by a “common school
experience” is a faulty argument. Schools exist to teach, not for the sake
of existing. Americans respect diversity and freedom of opinion, but somehow a
diversity of ideas in education seems anathema. Private schools send a higher
percentage of students to college than do public schools. Their students perform
better on standardized tests. They operate more cost efficiently. They are
directly responsible to the parents of their students, while public schools pay
more attention to school boards and administrators. Government schools have had
a monopoly on children for far too long. Thanks to their efforts, one third of
American seventeen-year-olds cannot locate France on a map of the world. Only
one in ten can write a reasonable paragraph or do pre-college mathematics. Every
citizen in America deserves a decent education. School choice can make it

Brimelow, Peter. “Bottomless Pit.” Forbes 3 November 1997: 52-3.

Doerr, Edd, Albert J. Menendez, and John M. Swomley. The Case Against School
Vouchers. New York: Prometheus Books, 1996. Harmer, David. School Choice: Why
You Need It, How You Get It. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1994. Friedman,
Milton, and Rose Friedman. Free to Choose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1980. McGroarty, Daniel. Break These Chains: The Battle for School Choice.

Rocklin: Prima Publishing, 1996.


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