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School Vouchers And Progressive Vice

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Jeffrey Sachs is a world-renowned economist whose work has included helping the countries of Bolivia, Poland, Russia, China, and various countries in Africa improve their economic policies. His book “The End of Poverty” is subtitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Time.” It is an interesting read about his efforts and many successes, in helping poor countries change their policies in order to help their economies grow to the benefit of all the people.

What I found most interesting was his purely objective understanding of what government can and cannot do. Quoting from the chapter “Making the Investments Needed to End Poverty”: “When governments run businesses, they tend to do so for political rather than economic reasons. State enterprises tend to overstaff their operations, since jobs equals votes for politicians…”

Turning to Carroll Quigley and his “The Evolution of Civilizations” we find he addresses the issue of how the good ideas and purposes of a government program or private business become institutionalized saying: “… organizations begin with devotion to a purpose and somehow along the way get turned from that purpose and gradually become a collection of special interests … the organization achieves its function or purpose in society with decreasing effectiveness, and discontent with its performance begins to rise, especially among outsiders. These discontented suggest changes, which they call reforms, just as we see happening in American elementary and secondary education today.”  Published in 1961, it is obvious that the efforts to reform the institutionalized public education system has continued for decades.

Today, in North Carolina the fight continues. The public school systems are well entrenched, with many supporters, overstaffed, and not performing their function very well. Yet with so many people participating in their continuance as they are, they are hard to change. There are many thousands of teachers (voters), assistants (voters), maintenance employees (voters), and over-populated administrations (voters), whose sole purpose it often seems is to justify their own existence. Since the schools are so well institutionalized, they no longer concern themselves with their initial reason for being, educating students, but give that only passing attention in their efforts to enlarge administration and maintain their social and economic position. Students are the excuse for the existence of their position in society, for their income. They no longer see students as the focus of their work. With so many voters on their side they will be difficult to dislodge because their response to those who would reform the system is to attack the reformers for being against the children and public schools. Nonetheless, the fight continues.

In a recent edition of the uptown paper, two Republicans and two Democrats write about House Bill 944, which is an attempt to help parents get a better education for their children. Indirectly, it is an attempt to force the public school systems to reform by starting competing organizations with taxpayer funding. Since this causes funding to leave the public school systems the outcry is deafening. Thus we find the obligatory column defending the status quo. Specifically, Kevin J. Rogers of Action NC (I’m guessing an advocacy group paid for by the NEA or some other teachers’ organization) attacks the idea of vouchers.

He tells us 60 percent of North Carolina voters oppose vouchers. As he doesn’t tell us where he gets his polling data one cannot verify his opinion. However one can easily find differing opinions: A poll released by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, performed by Survey USA, found that 67 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of African-Americans support “the state providing scholarship grants of around $4,000 a year to help families pay for tuition and other educational expenses at a school of their choice.”

That was easy enough. So we begin to understand that Mr. Rogers is an advocate for maintaining the status quo and has no interest in educating children, except as a way to keep the money flowing to the current recipients.

Rogers inquires: “don’t our children deserve better than to be educated on the cheap?” What he really means is that the proposed amount of the vouchers is not as much as what the taxpayers pay the public schools; but instead of arguing that proponents should bolster funding for vouchers , he uses the smaller amount as a reason not to have vouchers at all. Along that line he argues the vouchers are not enough to cover tuition at every private school and since the state is supposed to provide education to all this is, again, a reason not to have vouchers instead of a reason to raise the amount of the vouchers.

In all, Mr. Rogers makes it clear he is a shill for the status quo, which brings us to a final point.

It seems that those we call liberals, who prefer the term progressives, have become the ones who prefer no change. It seems it is those who are called conservatives who want to change things, to try to make them better, to serve the people instead of those who run the system. In the case of public schools it is usually conservatives wanting to shake up the system, to make it better serve the students, to give them a good education, while it is the progressives who want to keep things the same. The reason is easy to discern and so we should call those who want to keep things the same “statists” and self-aggrandizing.

Certainly it becomes more and more obvious that the self-interests of the teachers’ organizations, school administration, and their various supporters are not so concerned about the reason for public schools, which is the education of the children, as about the maintenance of their gravy train at the expense of the taxpayers. If the students don’t learn and get less of an education in order to keep them paid for showing up, well, the reason for that is, just ask them, they don’t get enough money.

In the meantime, in the decades since Quigley wrote about this problem in 1961, at which time the institutionalization of public schools was already a problem, how many students have gone lacking for the better education they could have had if those who run the public schools really cared about them and their education?

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