Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Government not the only educator

[This letter to the editor from OCPA's Brandon Dutcher was published Sunday, August 29 in the Tulsa World.]

I appreciated Wayne Greene's well-written column on the Henry Scholarships ("Vouchers lite," Aug. 22). Greene says that "public funding could start flowing into private schools pretty quickly," but I don't see that as reason for concern because, indeed, it's been flowing for quite some time now. Whether it's Oklahoma preschoolers attending private daycare centers, or school districts paying private companies to provide online education, or students using Pell Grants to attend private colleges, public money flows to private organizations all the time.

Greene says "education is a public task," but just because the government provides services doesn't mean the government has to produce all of them. Just as Medicaid patients can go to private hospitals, and food-stamp recipients can shop at privately owned grocery stores, students should be able to go to privately operated schools.

"The right of parents to choose the schools that children attend is an internationally accepted norm," says Boston University education professor Charles Glenn, a former education bureaucrat for Gov. Michael Dukakis. "Every country in the world except North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba allows parents to choose schools. Every Western democracy except the United States provides public funding to support those choices."

In short, "public education" simply means producing an "educated public." And that requires all sorts of different schools. Policymakers ought not view the government as the default setting, as some sort of privileged player when it comes to educating children.

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