From time to time people read my essays or comments against public schooling and in favor of home schooling and ask me what I think about charter schools. For many people who realize that the evils of state-run and state-funded education run counter to their own professed conservative principles, the assertion of freedom and private enterprise usually accompanying the promise of charter schools—as well as school vouchers—seems like doing the right thing for liberty and free markets.
Frankly, this is deception. For the conservative and especially for the Christian who is concerned about the Law of God and the true principles of freedom, any program that leaves a single cent or a single regulation or law concerning education in the hands of the civil state is unacceptable. The only options considerable are home schooling, private cooperatives, and possibly private schools.
Some people balk at these options for various reasons—most of them surmountable or excuses. They will respond that vouchers or charter schools are a “step” in the right direction. But there is no reason in the world to take only one step when there are paths wide open to go all the way. And why would anyone take a step in the mud when the sidewalk is available?
Some will argue that charters schools and vouchers are a way to have private control over one’s education while getting your tax money back. This is dangerous ground. It legitimizes the taxation and state-control over education in general, and leaves funding in the hands of the state (which always means there are strings attached). It also runs the same risks of all socialistic funding schemes: 1) of wealth redistribution in general (i.e. stealing), 2) of legitimizing a system funded and operated through coercion (forcing people to pay, i.e., stealing), and 3) the risk of individuals receiving more money and resources out of the system that they put in (i.e., stealing).
It also continues the government monopoly over the system. To this end, Andrew Coulson recently writes for the Cato Institute:
Fortunately, over the course of human history, a system evolved which tends to align the interests of producers and consumers more effectively than any other. It is the free enterprise system, in which producers must compete for the privilege of serving each and every customer, and consumers have the freedom to easily choose from among many competing providers. Let schools do their best to serve families and let families choose their schools: let the chips fall where they may. Some schools will succeed, others will fail. Those that succeed, grow. Those that fail are prevented from continuing to ill-serve families. It is a system that works not simply in theory, but in practice, as I found when I surveyed the worldwide within-country research comparing alternative school systems.
The study to which he links is actually very helpful in this regard. It found that, “In more than 150 statistical comparisons covering eight different educational outcomes, the private sector outperforms the public sector in the overwhelming majority of cases. Moreover, this margin of superiority is greatest when the freest and most market-like private schools are compared to the least open and least competitive government systems (i.e., those resembling typical U.S. public school systems).”
But the fact is not limited to public schools, which includes charter schools. It applies to voucher systems also.
When I compared the red tape that vouchers and tax credits impose on private schools, I discovered that vouchers, but not tax credits, impose a large and statistically highly significant extra burden of regulation. It’s not hard to see why: . . . When you force people to pay for something under threat of incarceration, which is what tax funding does, people want a say in how that money is used. It doesn’t matter that regulations frequently fail to accomplish their stated aims or are even counterproductive to them. People still want that perception of control and they will vote and even lobby for the rules and regulations to obtain it.
“Vouchers mean control,” as philosopher Steven Yates writes:
The first rule of federal funding is that with every dollar there are strings attached, and this is a much bigger danger with vouchers than any of the above writers would have us believe. . . . Some of the strings may not be apparent at first; bureaucrats may be inherently power-hungry, but rarely operate in an all-at-once fashion. . . . But eventually they do become apparent. . . . Educrats are able to use the fact that the money is coming from the federal government – i.e., from taxpayers – to assert control. Federal education money means federal education control. Just ask leaders at colleges such as Hillsdale and Grove City who had to fight major lawsuits to keep free of federal interference; one of the upshots of these lawsuits is that no student attending either can accept a single federal dollar – for anything.
But we have to acknowledge that the same is true of State or Local funding in regard to those jurisdictions. As long as government is involved, period, we do not have a free or free market solution for education. Instead we have what Lew Rockwell rightly called a “market socialist model.” To understand better what a “market socialist model” is, think ObamaCare. Conservatives who want to defund and repeal ObamaCare ought to be in just as big a crusade against all government-funded schooling.
Further, vouchers create a dangerous precedent in the opposite direction: of more government intrusion in private lives and private schools. Yates references home school and private school advocate E. Ray Moore:
[P]rivate religious schools will eventually be compelled to accept every student whose parents present the voucher. Thus they lose control of their admissions policies and find themselves facing many of the same troublesome students that subsist in the government schools.
In the hands of the John Days of the educratic world, they will soon lose control of their curriculums as well. . . . [B]ecause they do represent easy money coming from the government, vouchers have more in common with welfare than their proponents recognize.
Moore then calls vouchers “school stamps,” because they will come to be one more entitlement private schools, as well as charter schools, are forced to accept. Yates notes, “This will open the door to left-liberal control over vouchers.”
That door is already open. We already see organized movements against charter schools by liberals. For example, charter schools that currently include creationism or intelligent design in their curricula get blasted by liberals who argue just as they do for public schools: schools that receive public funds should not be allowed to advance religious instruction. Make of that what you may, but it is consistent, and given the current atmosphere of jurisprudence in this nation, the liberals will eventually win that argument.
Some will argue that I am helping the liberals by arguing that way. This is nonsense, and that is my main point: It is the conservatives and Christians who continue to support any publicly funded or regulated alternative who are giving the liberals victory. Socialism begets socialism. When you subsidize something, you get more of it. They are the ones who had much in common. I oppose the policies of both groups as unbiblical. I just admit that the long-run of unbiblical policies cannot favor the ones who cling to the Bible and yet pretend those policies are acceptable. This is not helping the liberals. This is trying to wake up all the Christians and conservatives.
So what about charter schools? They are still government schools, and thus are not a biblical option. Vouchers the same. But they are actually more dangerous than standard public schools, because they deceive people with the illusion that they are the opposite: the path of faith and freedom.
Worse, they keep people off the true path of faith and freedom, which is home-schooling and fully private schools.
And as I argue in Restoring America, once we realize this truth, we can start talking about property taxes.