“No public money for private schools.”

This slogan, employed against the idea of a system of public funding where parents would have a choice of which schools their children attend, is so void of meaning, so vapid in its reasoning, that it could only be employed by charlatans. Such is the wit and wisdom that went in the naming of the Public Funds for Public Schools OK Coalition (PFPS), which turns the slogan above into their name. This coalition of the usual suspects – unions, insider associations, and a couple of politicized ministries have a “goal of ensuring public funds remain in public schools.”

Well, if they’re actually serious about that goal, they really should be advocating for shutting down public schools altogether, because the only funds being spent in the public schools that stay in public hands are those that buy land, buildings, and other assets that remain in public ownership. When it comes to the rest of the money, most of it is spent on people (teachers, administrators, custodians, bus drivers, counselors, coaches, groundskeepers, sports referees, food preparers, and clerical workers, to name a few) who, last I checked, are all private citizens. All of the companies that sell food, computers, books, desks, balls, buses, consulting services, textbooks, pens, whiteboards, bricks, sod, paper, and supplies for maintenance and upkeep, last I checked, are private companies.

Let’s understand exactly what it is the charlatans are saying when they cry, “public funds for public schools.” They’re saying kids must attend the public school they’re assigned to by virtue of their home address. The only exception can be if parents either have the money and/or the time to separately pay for private schools or home schooling. Otherwise, by law, since a child is required to attend school, the child has to attend the local monopoly public school. They have to attend this public school whether or not the curriculum matches the family’s values, whether or not the school is safe to walk to, whether or not the other children are well-behaved, and whether or not the teachers and administrators care and make any real effort to pass on knowledge.

In other words, PFPS folks are for education plantations, where kids and families are trapped for the sake of head-counts that are used to capture funding, a fraction of which actually funds education by funding teachers’ salaries and the basics they need in the classroom. The PFPS charlatans talk about children, but children are clearly a smokescreen when you consider that the adults who know these children the best – their parents – are to be denied the most effective method at anyone’s disposal to best benefit their children, which is the ability to make a choice.

The PFPS coalition is also ignorant of history, believing their vision of “public education is the cornerstone of our democracy.” The public education system we see today was fully implemented barely a hundred years ago, and only got its start in the mid-1800’s, 80 years after the American Revolution, when Americans were generally better readers than they are right now. PFPS members are so wedded to the concept of centralized, monopolistic education that they would deny families the ability to choose a different public school, even when the public school a parent’s address assigns their kid is a chronically failing school. That’s HB 2673, a bill that PFPS opposes.

PFPS also opposes HB 2701, a bill that expands the state’s tuition tax credit program, whereby someone can contribute to a private organization that provides scholarships to children to attend private schools OR someone can contribute to a public school, and get a tax credit for these donations. It saves the state money, because the credits per child are less than what’s saved in the public schools when children leave the public schools for the scholarships. But let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if bills like HB 2673 and HB 2701 save the state money, save school districts money, or save children from horrible educational situations, the PFPS folks will oppose any such programs. They’ll make up excuses like “accountability,” “the cost to public schools,” “democracy,” “diversity,” “racism” or any other lie they can think of.

Home schoolers often wear t-shirts claiming Mount Rushmore as a monument to home schoolers since all four of the presidents that monument memorializes were extensively educated informally. This was back when parents made more fundamental education decisions than what school district they lived in. As in any production endeavor, the key to achieving high quality and real service is choice and competition, which discourages complacency, encourages strong effort, and promotes real accountability. PFPS would have us just dump more money into the gaping maw of a long-corrupted system for which more money has never made a significant difference. Maybe it’s time to go the truly quality route, with competition both inside (HB 2673) and outside (HB2701) the system.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute’s Director and can be contacted at bschlomach@1889institute.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.