School choice promotes excellence, increases competition and saves money.
It would be wonderful if every American could read the impressions of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote “Democracy in America.” Educators should be teaching how to think instead of what to think. In the spring issue of this magazine, a superintendent was critical of the Choice Scholarship program in Indiana. The article alleged some three-tier system for the taxpayer; actually, the Choice Scholarship program saves taxpayer dollars. It also gives the taxpayer a choice in directing their tax dollars in a way that more accords with their respective values.
Sadly, there is a tendency for more and more control over the educational system, going back to the concept that is more concerned about teaching people what to think rather than how to think. The private schools do not “replicate services.” Private schools are free to express a faith component, which is protected by the First Amendment, and the first phase is worth quoting in full: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
By limiting the choice of people to educate their children in the context of faith, or even the lack of any particular faith, (e.g. a charter school), such a limitation is in direct contradiction to this first phrase of the amendment. If a citizen is a taxpayer and has children, why should they not have the choice to select what they deem to be more appropriate for their own child? For years those who have made the sacrifice to educate their children in their faith tradition, or in a private school, whatever that may have been, had been effectively “taxed twice” by the portion of their taxes paid in that went to educate other children, while also paying to educate their own children independently.
The Choice scholarship program adds a degree of competition to the educational system, and competition leads to the pursuit of excellence. With the new changes in the law, the taxpayer saves at least 10 percent for every child who attends a private or charter school. To somehow suggest that the Choice Scholarship program somehow penalizes the taxpayer is wrong; the taxpayer benefits from this program by decreasing the total amount that was budgeted for the education of our children. Parents still have the choice to choose the public option. To suggest that this “weakens” public schools is disingenuous at best.
Instead of complaining about how much money one school receives over another, let us focus on what is best for our children, especially the poor. Their options have been so limited until Indiana decided to make “choice” a more realistic option for those who do not have the mobility of most. These “precious public dollars” are not generated randomly; they come from individuals who have a right to direct them to the education of their own children.
At least today we live in a free country, why would anybody be threatened by this freedom? Maybe it is because they are like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” who assailed Jesus for recognizing the value of freedom as opposed to falling prey to the devil’s temptation for resources and control.
But again, is it because people are more concerned about teaching people what to think, rather than teaching them how to think? We need diversity in our educational system to foster deep reflection on values that will forge our future. Monopolies quell competition and there is little motivation to improve the quality of one’s product. Public school officials should not be threatened by competition, but be moved to make their product more excellent so people will freely choose what they deem best for their children!
Father Glenn Kohrman was ordained to the priesthood in 1992. Prior to that he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. He is currently pastor of Holy Family Parish in South Bend, and is on the board of Catholic Charities and chaplain for the newly forming guild of the Catholic Medical Association in the South Bend area.