Often I have seen it argued by those who are employed by, or represent, the government education system that those of us who are critical of the system should simply exercise choice and pick a charter school or a private school for our children. Choice, they say, is readily apparent and available; these apologists don’t understand when people continuously argue for choice in education. My concern is more than simply exercising options under the veil of the state, it is about a fundamental right due all Americans.
The fact of the matter is that in many states, such as Wisconsin where I happen to live, a parent has choices but we do not have real choice. While that may sound a bit convoluted, it is nevertheless true. As a parent I can exercise my legal right to send my child to any school I choose, providing it comports with the overriding compulsory state education requirements. Therefore, parents do have options within the overriding state imposed framework; but options under a state controlled monopoly and real choice are clearly not the same thing and imply a far deeper issue.
As a taxpayer, I am compelled by the threat of conversion to pay real property taxes. As one who purchases other items and has earned income I also pay sales tax and income tax. Each of these taxes are sources of revenue for the state and are used to fund the government schools. Not a dime of this expropriated money goes to fund home schooling, private, or parochial schools. Currently, Wisconsin is spending, in total, approximately $11,000 per pupil1. Funding comes from both property taxes at the local level of $3.5 billion2 (43.5% of all property taxes paid), plus $5.5 billion in redistributed general fund money collected at the state level3. Given an annual expenditure for all of the state’s budgetary items (approximately $12.7 billion), education at the K-12 level consumes roughly 43% of the total state budget. If funded entirely from state revenues with no contribution from local property tax, it would account for approximately 70% of the total state budget.
As a parent raising a child it is my solemn duty and responsibility (in fact, pure joy) to provide protection and to see to the training of the mind of my child so as to become an independent, rational, self-reliant person. This is not the exception, it is the vast rule among the vast majority of parents – there are few who would shirk this solemn duty. If I choose to send my child to the local government school for this mind training, I fully expect to pay for it and I do – via the taxes already mentioned that one pays. And these taxes are not just during the time the child attends, but incredibly for the totality of one’s property owning life in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) whether one has children or not.
If I as a parent make an independent, rational decision that what is in my child’s best interest is not attending the local government elementary, but rather XYZ Private School, I am exercising a fundamental (self-evident) human right in the raising of a child. Furthermore, I pay tuition at XYZ to exercise this choice because they (XYZ) do not receive state funding. In so doing, I have exercised both my fundamental rights as an American (a self evident right implicit in “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”) and a legal right granted to me by the state to send my child to a non-government school.
However, the very entity (State of Wisconsin) that allows me to legally exercise said educational options, simultaneously limits (and in many cases prevents) me from making an economic choice to close the deal. Consequently, I have been effectively denied both the fundamental American right and the State’s own statutory right to choose where my child will be schooled. And the root cause is due to the fact that if I choose other than the government schools I am still required to subsidize the government education system; a system that through my choice is deemed inappropriate for educating my child.
For many parents the substantial financial hurdle of forced expropriation of taxes to pay for education effectively creates a monopoly and eliminates the possibility of educational options other than the government schools. For others with greater financial resources it causes their fundamental human rights to be violated because even though they have chosen an option, they are still forced to pay for a system they find intolerable or immoral. The fact is, there is no real choice.
Economic choice means voting with dollars between competing choices – if you buy a hamburger at McDonald’s but are required by law to also buy one from Hardees have you really made a choice? Of course not. As bad as the hamburger analogy would be if real, it is far worse in the realm of education because not only are you required to pay for an additional hamburger at Hardees you are compelled by law to buy hamburgers! The fact that the state imposes compulsory schooling laws is a debate for another day, but given that they impose it should be by any rational analysis enough – to mandate that you must pay for the state’s hamburger is awfully soviet-esque. The reality is that the state interferes with my choice in education causing me to pay twice and is clearly the crux of the problem. By not crediting back to me the amount I have paid in taxes relative to the tuition paid to exercise my legal parental options creates a limitation if my income is high, or a total barrier if my income is low. Such a coercive power grab by the state over where my child is educated is simply and purely immoral.
While I am educating my child, I have no moral obligation or personal duty requirement to simultaneously subsidize other children’s education. Unless, of course, I should choose to be truly benevolent. The irony here is glaring, by creating the socialist/altruist monopoly that is the government schools they have removed from parents the ability to engage in true benevolence in the great cause of education. It should then come as no surprise to anyone the continued divisiveness surrounding the government education monopoly and its intransigence towards a market based education system, aka economic educational choice.
Private property is the foundation of a market economy and economic choice is proof of its real operation. Private property is the storehouse of a citizens individual wealth, their only means of attaining real independence in a democracy. By expropriating capital with the threat of conversion of ones private property, the state has undertaken a direct attack upon capitalism and free markets. To fund government controlled and mandated education with the proceeds thereof with no consideration for the economic reality of the rights of parents to educate there progeny is a direct frontal attack on individual freedom and liberty – the essential foundations and philosophical basis to which our Founding Fathers looked in creating this great country. The state might as well deny me the legal right of options as well.
Economic educational choice is more than a tag line, it is more than a griping point, it is not a ploy by rich people to keep more of their money. It is one of the most fundamental issues we face in this country because it portends a future that implies either a socialist state or a free society. A truly Austrian solution would deal first and foremost with the notion of compulsory schooling laws, short of that direct tax credits or intelligent vouchers for educational expenditures. Those of us who argue vociferously for economic educational choice are on the right side of history and stand hand in hand with the likes of Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry and others in their proclamation that man is truly endowed with certain inalienable rights – “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”
Who do you stand with?
1 Approximately 870,000 K-12 students attend government schools in Wisconsin. The total funding for educating these students is composed of redistributed funding from the state level (essentially 90% of all income taxes paid) of $5.5 billion, plus $3.5 billion in property taxes at the local level, plus $600 million in Federal funds. That total, $9.6 billion spread over 870,000 students equals approximately $11,000.