Monday, March 21, 2011

My Objective Standard Article - Vouchers vs. Tax Credits

My article, Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?, appears in this Spring’s addition of The Objective Standard. It seeks to move the parental school choice movement in the direction of less government control by embracing properly structured tax credits while rejecting any incarnation of government-funded private school vouchers. The idea of education tax credits has, of course, been around for a long time. What I’ve sought to do is pull together a plan that carries the idea to its full logical implications – in effect, bringing about the separation of education and state one parent, and one child, at a time.

Parental school choice has been a focus of mine for at least 20 years. My thinking on the subject has evolved over time, culminating in the plan I submit in the TOS piece. I believe that the time is right for this article. When I first latched on to it, the idea that all parents should be able to choose their children’s school through some manner of redirecting their education tax dollars was considered a fringe issue not worthy of much serious consideration, even though it had been more than 30 years since Milton Friedman launched the idea in the 1950s. Today, we see choice programs popping up around the nation. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has endorsed the nation’s first statewide universal parental choice initiative.

The political winds are now at the backs of the choice movement. This is a good thing, up to a point. It represents the most serious challenge to the hegemony of the government’s virtual education monopoly at least in my lifetime, and probably ever. It is my view that the public school establishment is on the ropes, and major changes are on the way. The growing strength of the school choice movement is evidence of that. But, the movement needs more. Its current thrust could turn the promise of parental school choice into a disaster for the private school sector, and set back the cause of educational freedom by years, if not decades.

The school choice debate needs a healthy infusion of the argument from individual rights, with all that that implies. This article should help open the door wide to that infusion. I look forward to answering questions and objections concerning my plan, especially from those that may come from the reactionary defenders of the status quo.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the help I received in writing the TOS article. My daughter Christine and wife Kathy offered valuable proofreading services on my first draft submission to the editors. Though the final article was significantly revamped through the editing process and bore significant revisions in structure and content to the original version, their help should be acknowledged. I cannot overstate the assistance given to me by TOS’s Editor Craig Biddle and Assistant Editor Alan Germani. There are more questions and complexities to the idea of a tax credit-based transition to a free education market than can be dealt with in a short article. A short book could probably be written on the subject. In constructing my case I was often prone to wonder off into different directions which, though I thought important, tended to dilute my theme. Craig and Alan persistently and patiently kept me on message – to say nothing of the many important suggestions and guidance they offered.

I hope you enjoy the article.