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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
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K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]


The Big Choice
It's education...
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 10/29/04

In five days, on November 2, Americans will go to the polls and choose the next president of the United States. As they ponder their options, the people might also consider what they can and cannot choose.

They can choose senators, members of congress, and choose to vote for or against ballot propositions on issues ranging from the "three strikes" law to mental illness. The people can also choose mayors and members of the local school board. Americans can choose where to live, whom they marry, what kind of car to drive, what sort of food to eat, what kind of clothes to wear, what kind of computer they will use, and whether or not they will engage in kayaking. They can decline to watch television or choose among "The Apprentice," "Monday Night Football," and hundreds of other options.

The myriad choices might promote the idea of a choice society, but that is misleading. Most Americans still cannot choose the K-12 school their children will attend.

Our government education system makes that choice for them. If the school is failing, dangerous, or both, as many are, the options are limited. If parents decide to send children elsewhere, their tax money remains in the system that denies them choice and forces them to pay twice. That stands in contrast to higher education, which funds the student, not the system or the institution, and allows the student to choose among UCLA, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Chico State, and countless others.

A better and more just approach would be to give parents and students vouchers and allow them to choose the K-12 school they believe best meets their needs. Other services have long followed the same pattern.

Food stamps, for example, are vouchers, part of a government program financed by taxpayers dollars. But the food-stamp voucher does not force the recipient to shop at a government commissary. They can, and do, patronize private stores. The Section 8 housing vouchers dispensed by the government do not require the recipient to live in a government building. Recipients can, and do, opt for private apartments or houses.

In 2004, there is no educational or constitutional reason to continue the practice of trapping children in failed and dangerous government schools. Those who teach in such schools are highly likely to send their own children to private schools.

Currently, 34.3 percent of public school teachers in San Francisco, Oakland, and Vallejo send their own children to private schools. The 34.3 percent is more than one third, and 9.1 percent higher than the 25.2 percent of all families who opt for private schools. In Philadelphia, 43.8 percent of public school teachers, nearly half, opt for private schools. (See Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold, and David A. DeSchryver, "Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?" )

In similar style, federal politicians prefer private schools for their own children while consigning the masses to the government education monopoly, a vast system of patronage better at tranferring wealth than instructing children. Perhaps one day Americans will be able to vote for a president who openly backs full educational choice for all, as a matter of basic civil rights. In 2004, voters still have no choice in the matter.CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute

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