Wednesday, July 13, 2016

If Vouchers Are Good Enough for Veterans in the GI Bill…

Freedom of Choice in Education
First published in North State Journal, 7/17/16

People express concern from all sides of the political spectrum about the quality of our public education system.

Some say the answer is paying our teachers more money. Others believe the size of classes need to be reduced. Others say we need more modern curricula. Still others say we need to go back to basics and a classical education.

How about injecting a full dose of freedom of choice into public education nationwide?

Milton Friedman in his seminal book, ‘Free to Choose’ wrote about the dynamics of such freedom of choice in education in 1979. At the time, the experiments with vouchers and educational choice had very limited experience up to that point.

We have had 37 years since then to evaluate whether the established public education model with ‘big box’ schools and heavy administrative overhead has worked to better educate the youth of our country.

You can decide for yourself whether it has worked well or not.

Before you completely go bonkers about ‘vouchers in public education’, though, consider two things that might pop your opposition balloon pretty quickly:

1) The GI bill allows veterans to get funding from the federal government to use at ANY institute of higher learning whether it is public, private, religious or graduate school ANYWHERE in the country.

Millions of veterans have taken full advantage of the GI bill which is nothing but a voucher any way you slice-or-dice it. No restrictions on using federal taxpayer money for any purpose other than letting the veteran get a college or graduate degree at any college or university of his or her choice.

Not the government’s choice or with any restrictions.

2) Have you ever heard of the North Carolina Legislative Tuition Grant Program funded by North Carolina state tax dollars since 1975?

According to their official description, ‘(t)he NCLTG program pays a grant to eligible undergraduate North Carolinians enrolled at an approved private institution’.

That’s right. Your publicly-paid and supported North Carolina tax dollars are annually appropriated for the targeted purpose of helping North Carolina undergraduates pay for expenses at approved, eligible ‘private’ universities in the state.

Here’s a short list of the private universities your state tax dollars have been going to help students pay their tuition for the past 41 years:  Duke, Davidson, Mars Hill, Wake Forest, Shaw, Lenoir-Rhyne, Guilford, Belmont Abbey.

Virtually every private college or university in North Carolina is eligible for a student to use this grant of just under $2000/annually to pay for college tuition. Close to 50,000 students annually are given this state grant subsidy to the tune of $88.4 million in this year’s budget.

If that is not a form of a full choice ‘voucher’ to pay for higher education at private universities, some of which still maintain some form of religious affiliation, then there is no such thing as a true voucher anywhere in the country.

To summarize, the GI Bill has worked well for the past 81 years and has enjoyed bi-partisan support every year. North Carolina has long been using taxpayer funds to subsidize college tuition at private colleges and universities.

What exactly is the problem with vouchers again when it comes to public education?

The key point for everyone to remember is that the only objective we must achieve is educating our youth in the best way possible. If the current status quo has failed to achieve that objective over the past 50 years, isn’t it time to change and do something different?

Injecting more parental choice in public education might be the way to go. It works for GIs and North Carolinians who go to private colleges on the taxpayers' dime.

Why not our schoolchildren?

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