Monday, May 16, 2016

A Parent's Job

So, you’re a parent of school-age children. Suppose you have a family situation where you can’t take a vacation during summer, because of the job of one of the parents. But there is a week you can take off during a week in April, say. You look at your children’s grades and attendance records, and you make the decision to go to take a well-earned trip to Disney World. The kids will miss a full week of classes. You meet with their teachers and arrange for work to be made up. And you go make some good family memories.

And then you get fined for failing to have your child attend school, a criminal offense.

That’s ridiculous, so you take it to court. And you win, because a court isn’t going to go all the way to the logical conclusion that letting your child do something other than school for even a single day is criminal parental behavior.

This was big news in Britain on Friday.

A couple of days later, on a British news show, there was another educational issue that came up. As I recall, it was about a parent’s choice to take a child out of a failing neighborhood school and go into a school of the parents’ choice. The newsperson thought this was fair and right. But when she was asked about the outcome of the vacationing father’s case, she thought that was wrong. It would encourage other parents to take their kids out of school for holidays. The news people agreed that there was a limit to what sensible people could allow parents to do, and compulsory education was for a good reason.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the president put forth an ultimatum regarding his latest social agenda item. He sent out a decree to all public school districts in the country, threatening to cut off federal funding for education to any that did not comply with the requirement to allow self-proclaimed transgender students to use the bathroom and showers of their choice.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded, “I announce today that Texas is fighting this. Obama can’t rewrite the Civil Rights Act. He’s not a king.”

So maybe it’s time to think about education.

Let’s start with a basic question: Who has the natural right to see to the care and upbringing of their children?

If you believe the parent has that responsibility, you’re in the freedom zone. If you believe the government has that responsibility, you’re in the tyranny zone.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it’s in everybody’s interest if we educate the next generation. And we can’t expect all parents to take care of that—or be able to. So we’ve agreed together to do that,” then you’re partially right, but there’s more to it if you follow the thought through.

Yes, we all have an interest in an educated populace. But that doesn’t automatically give the responsibility to the government. And yes, there are some parents who will not or cannot provide for the education of their own children. But, as an alternative to government monopoly, wouldn’t it be better to help only those incapable of affording education, and taking responsibility away from only those parents who have proven to be negligent?

Let’s assume we’re in agreement that, a) education isn’t a government responsibility; it is a parental responsibility with societal help as needed; b) to the extent any government participates in education, it should be the most local level possible and should exclude the federal level.

Given that, the next question is, how do we get there from here?

The answer, as usual, is to limit government to its proper role and allow the free market to find innovative solutions.

So then the next question is how.

I’m not sure of the answer, but a week and a half ago I spent a day talking with Heritage Foundation visitors to Houston. They were here to listen—I got to talk education one-on-one for a couple of hours, before even hearing from their panel and then evening speaker, Jim DeMint. Part of their purpose was to introduce an idea that I’m beginning to consider.

Have you heard of ESAs? That’s Educational Savings Accounts (or other meanings for the letters, depending on where you are, but with that general idea). It’s similar to a medical savings account—money that follows the child, that can be used in various approved ways for the education of that child.

This is already being tried in five states. In Arizona, it started with special needs students. It took 90% of their state funding (leaving alone their local and federal money) and gave it to the parents. The parent could leave the child in the local public school program, but they had the option to take the allotted money and spend it one some combination of tuition, tutoring, therapy, classes, and educational equipment. This could include, maybe, a parochial school plus tutoring and equine therapy (which helps rewire the brain).
Educational Savings Account in use
photo found here

One example we were given showed the parents being allotted some $19,000 of the total $21,000 (the amount spent by the state on each special needs student in public schools), to use as best they could. They were able to provide very well, doing all they had intended—and had about $2000 left over for the year.

This leftover could be spent later in the year, or rollover to the next year, or accrue for the child to use for a college education.

Arizona expanded its program beyond special needs. As the money is made available to families to use as they choose, the market responds. And competition drives both innovation and lower prices.

Heritage was suggesting to Texas that we endeavor to persuade the legislature to initiate an ESA program, and that we set it up from the start to include all students who choose it, including homeschool and private school students, whose family’s currently pay taxes for their children’s educations, which they do not benefit from, and additionally have to pay out-of-pocket for their expenses.

I’m hoping to consider this in more detail in the future—with my notes in hand, and with some of the data and charts that Heritage showed us. But I was heartened to see that people have been thinking about marketplace solutions to free us from the government monopoly of education.

If we’re able to find ways to get better and cheaper ways to educate our children, that is good for everyone. If we’re able to return the responsibility and choice to parents, bypassing the federal government and its social engineering coercion—that’s priceless.

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