Thanks in large part to state and local government responses to the COVID-19 “pandemic,” enrollment in public schools has dropped for the last two school years as more and more parents have turned to homeschooling. This decline in parents’ use of public education coincides with the conservative backlash against public schools for what they see as the promotion of transgenderism, radical climate change policies, and critical race theory instead of the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Many conservatives and libertarians want to hasten this exodus from public schools by increasing what they term “school choice,” that is, government-provided educational vouchers that allow low-income parents to send their children to the school of their choice, which usually means private schools that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
John G. Grove, the associate editor of Law & Liberty, where the “focus is on the classical liberal tradition of law and politics and how it shapes a society of free and responsible persons,” sees school choice not as a “second-best option” but a “first-best option.” He writes in “Why School Choice Is the Best Choice”:
There are good reasons to see school choice as a first-best option, not just a mitigating policy in the face of the pandemic, social-justice school districts, or failing schools. Even if conservatives could write our own public school policies, even if there were no achievement gaps, no political indoctrination, no Covid paranoia, we should still push for a system that makes parental choice an unexceptional part of every school system.
His ultimate goal “would be a system in which choice is so well-established, universal, and commonly used” that “every parent would know from before their children were born that ‘what school?’ is a real question that needs to be answered and can easily be answered in many ways.”
Grove sees “three potentially important cultural benefits that would make school choice the first-best option”:
First, a school system built around choice could help build up a web of the kind of mediating institutions that are crumbling in the modern world.
Second, and relatedly, a choice-based system could strengthen the idea that the education of children is essentially the job of the family.
Finally, a settled and universal system of school choice could militate against the possibility that education remains a perpetual culture-war hot zone.
But everything he says about these benefits is also true of educational freedom. A school system built around educational freedom could help build up a web of the kind of mediating institutions that are crumbling in the modern world. A freedom-based system could strengthen the idea that the education of children is essentially the job of the family. And a settled and universal system of educational freedom could militate against the possibility that education remains a perpetual culture-war hot zone.
Grove maintains that “a system in which all parents can choose public or private school would undoubtedly lead to a proliferation of new private schools, each one potentially a social undertaking.”
Correct, but this is true of anything subsidized by the government—you get more of it.
What Grove never tries to justify or even brings up is that school choice entails the government forcibly taking money from people (many of whom don’t even have any children) through compulsory taxation and using it to pay for the education of other people’s children. School choice, therefore, is not only not the “first-best option,” it is not a valid option at all.
Educational freedom is the best choice because vouchers will lead to increased government regulation of private schools.
Educational freedom is the best choice because vouchers will lead to increased dependency on the government.
Educational freedom is the best choice because vouchers are not an intermediate step toward a free market in education.
Educational freedom is the best choice because vouchers will make private schools accountable to government instead of parents.
Educational freedom is the best choice because the answer to a failing government program is never another government program.
Educational freedom is the best choice because it is not a legitimate role of government to establish public schools, provide educational services to anyone, or fund anyone’s education.
Educational freedom is the best choice because there is no such thing as a “right” to an education.
Educational freedom is the best choice because no American should be forced to pay for the education of any other American or their children.
Educational freedom is the best choice because it is the only choice that completely separates education from the state.
Educational freedom is the best choice because freedom is the best choice.
Freedom is always the best choice. Whether it concerns charity, retirement, health care, insurance, commerce, trade—or education.