Say No to School Vouchers . . . Again
by Gary North: Geithner's
Victims of Last Resort
within the conservative movement over school vouchers keeps coming
back. This reminds me of the sequels to the Frankenstein and Dracula
movies in the 1930s and 1940s. No matter how many times the mob
from the town destroyed a monster, it came back. The reason was
clear: money. There were still ticket-buyers ready to see him return.
Finally, it ended with Abbott
and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. When Bud and Lou
got the screen rights, the franchises were over.
revival of the school vouchers issue has come as a result of a Tea
Party group in Pennsylvania, which is promoting vouchers for economically
poor students. The idea is being challenged by libertarian Tea Party
members. The New
York Times describes the proposed law.
would give vouchers to students in failing schools who are poor
enough to qualify for the federal free lunch program. The amount
would vary according to how much money the state contributes to
each district and would be expanded to a limited number of additional
students in the second and third years of the program. It would
cost an estimated $50 million in the first year, $100 million
in the second and $1 billion in the third.
recounts tales of splits on other issues within the Tea Party movement
in other states. According to the article, the Tea Party is a negative
political movement: united on what it opposes, but fractious on
what should be done. I think this overestimates the Tea Party's
agreement on what it opposes.
That the movement
could divide over school vouchers indicates that there is a recurring
disagreement within the Right over what the civil government should
fund and why, as well as what it should not fund and why not.
has gone on for my all of adult life. It goes back to Hamilton and
Jefferson in 1790: the debates over whether the U.S. government
should assume the debts of the states, and whether the government
should create a central bank, privately owned. Hamilton won the
votes, but he did not win the arguments. He favored centralization.
Jefferson did not, at least not in 1790. When he was President,
it was a different matter. Think "export embargo" and
"The Louisiana purchase."
BACKED BY GUNS
years ago, my article against school vouchers was published in The
The Double Tax." I began with a quotation from a book by
the grandson of John Quincy Adams, The
Education of Henry Adams. He wrote it in 1907, but it was
not published until immediately after his death in 1918.
education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing the popular
mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in the direction
supposed to be most effective for State purposes.
I argued that
the crisis in education, which was becoming visible in 1976, is
in fact a crisis of the government-run schools. It cannot be fixed,
because the principle of education run by the government is wrong.
It is not the State's responsibility to educate children. It is
the parents' responsibility. I offered this assessment:
sinking ship which finally takes on too much water, the government
education system is irretrievable. It will be useful in the future
only as scrap. But what about those millions of students who will
go through the system before it finally sinks? Will they too become
useful only as scrap?
I argued the
tax-funded educational system is inherently contradictory. The justification
for tax-funded schools is that it brings the benefits of education
to the poor. But education involves concepts of truth and falsehood.
It involves the selection of facts and topics. The state has certain
standards of truth and falsehood. It uses state funding to promote
the truth and inhibit falsehood. I add today: think "Darwininan
evolution." Think "central banking."
There are taxpayers
who have reverse views of what constitutes of truth and falsehood.
Inevitably, tax money is extracted from one group of voters to promote
the causes and beliefs of another group. The big winners are the
educational bureaucrats, who promote their views at taxpayer expense.
cannot be free under tax funding. There are no free lunches. There
is also no free inquiry inside government schools. There are always
badges and guns in tax-funded, government-licensed education.
There are also wallets less full after the local school
tax assessment has been paid.
long understood this with respect to the tax-funding of churches.
They have not understood this with respect to tax-funding of schools.
Back in 1963, two Protestant scholars, one liberal (Sidney E. Mead)
and one conservative (R. J. Rushdoony), identified the public school
system as America's only established church. They were correct.
It is worth
noting that Massachusetts was the last state to abandon tax-supported
churches, in 1832. Within five years, the legislature had created
a department of education to supervise its newly created system
of tax-funded schools.
Second, I raised
the issue of the failure of the tax-funded schools. The schools
were regarded by voters as declining, which in 1976 had become clear.
Yet they were also regarded as agencies of public salvation
messianic, as Rushdoony called them. I wrote:
today occupies an equivocal position in contemporary life, functioning
both as a scapegoat for every failure and as a catch-all for every
hope and expectation of society. The schools and colleges are
berated for extending their authority beyond the fundamentals
of learning into a program which envelopes the whole child or
the whole man, and, at the same time, are given additional responsibilities
which can only extend their scope even further. Fundamental to
this unhappy and contradictory approach is a messianic expectation
of education coupled with a messianic attitude on the part of
educators. The attitude of people towards education is that it
is a god that has failed and yet a god who can perhaps still be
whipped into fulfilling his mission.
This has not
Third, I argued
that the supposed pluralism of American life is denied by the nature
of school funding.
of American life is now, and always has been, in direct opposition
to a philosophy of public education. Yet the irreconcilable conflict
between these two principles has never been faced by the vast
bulk of our citizens and virtually any of its educational theorists.
The financing of a pluralistic culture must be voluntary, springing
from the deeply felt needs of the various religious, intellectual,
and cultural groups.
of conflict over the control, content, and financing of public
education serve as a testimony to the futility of combining a
system of tax-financed schools with a pluralistic culture financed
by free men. The system of education is elitist, as all professional
systems must be, but with taxation as its base, the system is
in conflict with democratic principles. It leads to a system of
Fourth, I argued
that the philosophical foundation of tax-funded education is the
doctrine of neutrality. Only because education supposedly can be
neutral and is in operation neutral can educators make a moral case
for extracting wealth from voters and also passing compulsory attendance
laws. If neutrality is a myth, then such coercion is inherently
unjust, according to the presumptions of democracy.
schizophrenia undermines every system of public education. On
the one hand, a primary justification for the existence of government-financed
education is that the nation needs citizens who are educated for
the responsibilities of democratic participation in the political
processes. The schools are to educate men in terms of the "ethics
of democracy" or "democratic values" or just plain
"patriotism." Schools must inculcate "values,"
although the more vague these are, the better for the administrators.
On the other
hand, in order to ward off criticism from various religious and
ideological groups, public education is simultaneously defended
as a system which inculcates no religious or ideological values
whatsoever. Public education is simply technical, making possible
a better, more productive, and more profitable life for all of
its students. The stated goals of democratic education and
strictly vocational or technical training are in absolute opposition
to each other. The first absolutely affirms the value-laden
nature of public education, while the second absolutely denies
by far the most important, is the debate regarding the locus of
sovereignty over education. Is it the State or is it the family?
To identify this locus sovereignty operationally, follow the money.
Who funds the schools?
of education must ultimately be the reflection of and product
of the philosophical principles of those who finance the system.
The decision about the financing of any institution inescapably
determines the shape and content of that institution. Modern men,
being secular, now recognize this fact when applied to the institution
of the church. They see that a state-supported church is antithetical
to the principle of freedom of conscience. They see, and religious
zealots like Roger Williams see, that state-financed churches
become the tools of the state which supplies the funds. But modern
men do not see that this strict relationship between financing
and operations applies equally well to government school systems.
Somehow, the relationship is ad hoc; it works when churches are
involved, but it is irrelevant in the field of public education.
Like the established churchmen of two centuries ago, today's priests
and parishioners of the public schools refuse to recognize the
nature of their relationship to the state.
This led me
to a conclusion:
of education is therefore a crisis in the realm of values, with
the values of the parents coming into conflict with the values,
philosophies, and incompetence of those in control of the tax-supported
educational system. If the parents continue to capitulate to the
philosophy of public education, then they will continue to be
defeated in their attempts to gain the kind of education they
want for their children. There is only one way that all parents
can gain such satisfaction: they must pay for the education of
their children. They can earn the money or they can convince some
third party to give them or their children the necessary funds
on a voluntary basis, but the parents must pay. If they want to
get what they pay for, they must pay directly, rather than paying
through the coercive means of state taxation.
Sixth, I introduced
the idea of school vouchers. I argued that they are a pseudo-market
scheme. The element of coercion is basic. This is the bedrock fact
of tax-funded schools. Follow the money, and we come to the state:
badges and guns.
The state cannot
legally hand over billions of dollars to parents unless parents
are limited in what kind of education they are allowed to buy with
the State's money. So, the State will set up licensing agencies
that will determine which schools are eligible. The moment there
is government funding, there is government licensing.
strengthen my case, I referred to chapter 9 of Milton Friedman's
1962 book, Capitalism
and Freedom, on occupational licensing. I argued that Friedman's
support of school vouchers in chapter 6 is inconsistent with chapter
A school voucher
is given to parents. They can send their children to any school
they choose, or so the promoters say. The receiving school then
turns over the voucher to the government for reimbursement.
good on the surface. Schools must compete. Parental authority is
maintained: greater freedom to choose. This defends educational
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North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2011 Gary North
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