Imagine being a child from a poor neighborhood. Imagine having to go to the school in your zip code, which, of course, is also in a poor neighborhood. Imagine knowing that in your educational future, you have no choice, no say and no options. Now imagine that you suddenly could choose your school instead of your zip code choosing for you. The school choice movement gives parents and students these options.
While 59 school choice programs now operate in 28 states and the District of Columbia, nearly 90% of U.S. children still attend public schools, most of which are assigned based on the antiquated zip code model. Based upon the understanding that parents, not the government, know the best place for their children to thrive, the “school choice” movement seeks to empower parents and students to obtain the best education to fit their particular needs. School choice includes a variety of options from vouchers, to Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), tax credit scholarships, charter schools (independently run, publically funded schools) homeschooling and others. The concept not only empowers parents and students, but applies the market principles of competition and innovation to the education sector.
Market principles already exist within the private school sector. Dallas, Texas boasts of great private schools spanning from religious and non-religious, Catholic, Jewish, Montessori, international schools and college-prep. Each option, like a product, has distinctives: uniforms, no uniforms, great sports teams, no sports teams, all-girls, all-boys, and co-ed. There are schools for children with learning disabilities, schools that use classic texts and schools that don’t. Parents investigate graduation rates, teacher-student ratios and whether the school has a strong arts or athletic program. Competition continues to incentivize schools to fit their educational niche. In addition to being a school, these institutions are businesses which need to please their customers (parents) and submit to a governing board. Schools therefore fire bad teachers and administrators. Over the years, some private schools do well while some go out of business.
No such dynamic exists in the public school system because, as a government-run monopoly, they have no competitors, and therefore no incentive for innovation. Sure they boast of new “programs” which require massive tax-payer funding, but no incentive exists to make sure that the students really achieve. Most parents, however, can’t afford to stop “buying” the bad public education product. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, professor of economics at Loyola University, Maryland and author of The Problem with Socialism states: “…as with all monopolies, the convenience of the administrators and employees comes before the needs of the customers, because the customers will always be there. They have no choice.”
Moving to a new home, may be the only real “choice” available to many parents. Some argue that public schools in wealthy neighborhoods are better because they have more money. Di Lorenzo, however, observes that public schools in wealthy neighborhoods are better because they have to compete with private schools. Yet only the wealthy can afford to pay both the school property tax and private school tuition. In a way, this renders the zip code driven public school model as elitist because it remains the only option for low-income residents.
Why, then, do those who claim to be for giving the poor a chance, the same ones who oppose giving the poor a choice? In reality, the issue has less to do with children than it does with self-interest. If parents have a choice and failing schools close, teachers and administrators fear losing their jobs. Take a look at the numbers: from 1970-2015 the number of students in public schools increased just 9 percent. Yet over the same time period, public school employees increased 83 percent (non-teaching—administrative staff increased 113 percent and teaching staff increased 52 percent). Teachers now make up only half of all public school employees. Bloated bureaucracy makes up the rest.
While school choice should be a bi-partisan effort to help children receive a good education, Democrat politicians routinely oppose the issue. Why? Follow the money. Rhonda Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the nation’s largest teachers unions, makes $497,118 per year. Additionally, the AFT’s 2016 political donations exceeded $45 million in federal donations to Democrats. Evidently, teachers union has a codependent relationship with the Democratic Party: the teachers need their jobs and the Democrats need the money. The Democrats protect the teachers, while the teachers give the Democrats cash. And the students? Not in the equation.
School choice puts students first, not educational bureaucrats or politicians. If we want an America filled with opportunity for children, we need to stop allowing the government monopoly of public education to enable the codependent relationship between teacher’s unions and the Democratic Party. Restoring market principles and competition to education will make all schools, even public schools, better. We need to restore market principles to education and give parents, not education bureaucrats, the government or union bosses, a choice in their child’s education.
The Indian caste system, which remains one of the oldest forms of socio-economic division, separates people from birth into classes or castes. Dividing people by occupation, the system places everyone, from the priest to the latrine cleaner in separate castes. The caste determines what you do for a living, where you can live and whom you can marry. In other words, the caste system is a predetermined order for your life — a cradle-to-grave blueprint for how you’ll either stay at the top because you were born at the top, or be sentenced to the slums because you were born in the slums.
While there have been some reforms in recent years, the system still remains. According to the BBC, “Some say the caste system would have totally disappeared by now if the fires were not regularly fanned by politicians.” The caste groups tend to vote as a block and politicians use this to their advantage. Sound familiar?
In the United States, we have a quasi-caste system, a welfare system, which incentivizes people to remain poor by staying on welfare and supporting the politicians who further their benefits. Star Parker, a former welfare single mom who worked her way out of the system, later founding Urban Cure, states, “It is no accident that the most loyal Democratic Party supporters are those most dependent on the government.” Democratic politicians essentially trade “free stuff” for votes, which keeps the poor in poverty and the elitist politicians in power. Sadly, many of its recipients have bought into the lie that welfare is good for them, when in reality it’s only good for the politicians who exploit them.
In addition to the $1 trillion spent yearly by federal, state, and local government funding of roughly 80 welfare programs, the welfare-caste system incentivizes people to stay poor, rather than encouraging them to seek opportunity, take responsibility for their behavior, and care for their families. While the massive national debt incurred by welfare programs should greatly concern us, our greater concern should be for the victims of these programs. The system rewards broken families, and penalizes in-tact ones. It encourages failure and creates a multi-generational group of people who don’t believe that they can achieve because the system has taught them that “not achieving” is its own achievement. This must change.
As a culture, we must champion the cause of the poor by empowering them to break free from the bondage of poverty. True compassion sees the value and dignity of each human being and helps them to achieve their potential. This occurs not through spending more government money but through incentivizing work, family and responsibility. Gov. Sam Brownback’s reforms in Kansas illustrate just that. Brownback instituted both work requirements and time limits for welfare eligibility. Since then, able-bodied adults on food stamps (without dependents) dropped 75%. Additionally, 60% of those who left welfare found employment within the first year. Their personal incomes increased by 127%. These people found opportunity. They found dignity. Most importantly, they found hope.
The state of Maine also reinstated the work requirement for able-bodied adults who saw their incomes increase by 114% in the first year, as they left welfare for a job. In addition to increasing their income, this good policy helped set free those souls trapped in the hopelessness of poverty, putting them instead on course to live a life of hope and dignity. All Americans should have an equal opportunity to build a life for themselves and their families, like those in Maine and Kansas.
The incredible story of Dr. Ben Carson, recounted in the book “Gifted Hands” and the film of the same name, tells the story of a young boy raised in urban Detroit who ultimately become a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Later, of course, we know that he ran for president and now serves as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His story exemplifies the power of opportunity, hard work and determination.
As a nation, we must pursue welfare reform that ends the politically created, socially stratifying welfare caste system. We must pursue welfare reform that gives all Americans access to the path of freedom and prosperity. We must remember our shared humanity and reject the caste system with its predetermined order and social stratification. If we truly believe in the value and dignity of the individual, and if we create our policies to encourage responsibility and hard work, we will see our brothers and sisters break free from generational poverty. We will show the poor that America is with them and for them. We will show them that the American Dream of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is not just for some but for all.
Originally published on Patriot Post, June 23, 2017.
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