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Guest MINDSETTER™ Jennifer Gaucher: Parental Power of School Choice

Friday, February 24, 2012


Americans need look no further than the educational establishment to fully comprehend the erosion of personal liberty. In no other industry has freedom been so immured in a collapsing dungeon of restricted thought, confined curriculum, horrendous statistics, and stifled competition than in the public school system.

It is easy to understand the depth of Americans personal loss of freedom when the ability for parents to choose the best school for their children is removed from the educational equation because necessary financial means are not available; thus, equal opportunity is not an option. The government collects monies for education in the form of tax dollars then redistributes the funding with maximum restrictions disguised as rules, regulations, and mandates that benefit student’s least.

According to Steven Brill, author of “Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools”, and an article in the August 13-14 edition of the Wall Street Journal, ‘the unions are the organizational link that will enable school improvement to expand beyond the ability of extraordinary people to work extraordinary hours.’ He goes on to suggest ‘that if pushed the right way, the unions can help to create educational systems that can enable and encourage ordinary teachers to work harder and more effectively—and still allow them to sit down once in a while so that they don’t burn out.’

Mr. Brill wants to ‘reach into every American classroom by working with the unions---persuading them to yield to the interests of the children their members are supposed to serve.’

By definition, unions are organizations whose priorities are to protect and promote the common interests of its own membership. Teachers’ unions are organized to protect their own interests not the best interests of the children they are supposed to educate.

Free Market

I say let the free market work its competitive magic by insisting that state and local governments provide equal vouchers to all school aged children and let parents be the primary controllers of their children’s interests.

Student A attends public school/charter school, student B attends private school, student C attends parochial school and student D is home schooled. The parents of students A, B, C and D are all productive members of their communities and contribute a generous amount of tax dollars to their federal, state, and local governments in return for government controlled public education. The parents of students B, C and D receive no monetary return on their investment. They forfeit their tax contribution in return for a more attractive and effective education for their children.

If all public schools were universally successful at educating children then no parents would opt out of the public school system but such is not the case.

America’s schools are in deep trouble, not because they lack men and women who care about children, but because they are dominated by an ideology that does not care about learning,’ says Charles Sykes author of Dumbing Down Our Kids.

Public schools too often fail because they are shielded by the very force that improves performance and sparks innovation in nearly every other human enterprise—competition,’ notes Robert Lutz and Clark Durant from Cornerstone School in Detroit.

Educational spending is in no way proportional to student achievement. While expenditures per pupil have increased by 22.9 percent nationally during the past 20 years, overall academic achievement subsists on a record of mediocrity and failure insulated within a bureaucratic monopoly of red tape, regulations, and mandates.

For students to achieve the best education they must be allowed to compete in the free-market with a minimum of government regulations. Competition improves quality, drives up value and decreases costs. Educational funding should follow the child so that the parents can choose the best schools. Tax dollars appropriated for education should go to schools chosen by parents who know best their children’s individual needs and concerns rather than bureaucrats far removed from the classroom. Forcing schools to compete for students is systemic reform. School choice will automatically reward success and penalize failure. Schools that are in demand will grow enrollment and schools that fail to satisfy parents will lose students and eventually have to close.

Teachers’ unions will always mount attacks against school choice and campaign against pro-school choice initiatives because they know that empowering parents instead of bureaucrats is the simple solution to improving schools. Teachers’ unions fear competition because it drives success via effective and accountable teachers and those teachers who can’t keep pace will be gone.

Effective schools are not characterized by small class sizes, exceptional teachers, the ethnic makeup of the faculty, or by the quality or age of the physical plant,’ says Charles Sykes.

Successful schools have strong and determined leadership, teachers committed to educational excellence, strict policies related to discipline and order, a school wide concern for reading skills, adroit use of reading specialists, a phonics-based curriculum, attention to individual student reading interests, and careful evaluation of pupil progress,’ according to George Weber, an analyst for the Council for Basic Education.

Mr. Brill claims that ‘superstar teachers and great charter schools are saving thousands of young lives,’ but I would argue that all elementary and secondary school students should be saved from the monopoly of government controlled classrooms. Charter schools can be more aptly labeled casino schools. The child whose number comes up wins and the child whose number does not loses.

‘There are three main sources of school funding, federal, state, and local with the majority coming from the state. State departments of education can pass the entire state portion of funding on to parents, rather than the school district, with no fiscal effect to the state. The state spends the same amount either way,’ according to an article titled, The Fiscal Impact of School Choice at the Milton & Rose Friedman Association.

The late Milton Friedman, one of the earliest proponents of vouchers, originally wanted voucher levels equal to the current per-pupil spending levels of public schools but more recently recommended a lower voucher value reflecting the ability of the private sector to produce goods and services at approximately half the total operating and capital cost of the public sector,’ notes Herbert Walberg at The Heartland Institute.

Parent's Rights

Parents in the United States can properly assert the right, recognized by long tradition and law, to direct the education of their children (Blum, 1958; Skillen, 1993). Some legal experts place the right of parents to control the schooling of their children at the foundation of all other civil liberties (Arons, 1997, McCarthy et al. 1981, McGarry & Ward, 1966).

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) that “the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Data compiled by The Heartland Institute. 

Teachers unions in collusion with bureaucrats and elected officials have illegally abridged the freedoms of parents through a gradual and insidious encroachment of unchecked power and thus have created a monolithic and monopolistic monster defined as the Education Establishment. 

Parents are the best advocates for their children’s education and can be a powerful force if they choose to organize. A recommended resolution for the parents of all school children is to begin to quash the public school monopoly on public funds by demanding an equal distribution of funds that will follow the child to the school of the parent’s choice. Parents must start lobbying at their state houses and at their local school committee meetings en mass. It is due time that students A, B, C and D all receive educational vouchers that will follow them to the school of their parents’ choosing.

Jennifer Gaucher is an entrepreneur and small business owner in Massachusetts. Her political philosophy has been molded & shaped through the eyes of a private sector producer in a liberal blue bastion of government loving consumers. She served as a local Selectmen from 2003 - 2006 and ran for State Senate in 2004 as part of Governor Romney's Reform Team. She espouses the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, free enterprise and adherence to the constitution. Jennifer can be contacted at [email protected]


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