Choose Your Schools, Choose Your Future
by Angela Humphries, At-Large LPNC EC Member
This was originally posted on Angela's blog, check it out here.
While the bill's short title seems corny, readers grasp the gist. There is no perfect bill, however, it is hard to argue against putting options and more freedom to choose in the hands of North Carolina families. Read the full bill here. Not only would the bill expand educational freedoms positioning all NC residents eligible, it removes the requirement to attend public school the prior year, as well as carves out a path for early high school graduation requirements and the creation of a scholarship fund for early graduation students.
What's striking for those who are fiscally aware, is the amount of spending in the bill. I want education dollars following kids, benefitting the taxpayers who made contributions, but at the same time I want to see another pile of money shrinking. The new legislation adds more spending, because the intent is to expand eligibility to more children (doubling the amount according to Sen. Lee). Educating more children would cost more dollars.
Note in the two following sections, the span of time is the same, yet the figures are drastically different.
This section appears in H823 /S406
The current NC Opportunity Scholarship Program
As one can see, there's a lot of money involved, including current administrative fees up $7,788,500. I guess it costs a lot to spend a lot? I would not be so concerned about this pile growing had it not been for a recent phenomenon in public school spending.
In the past, schools have been held harmless for losing students during the ongoing (pandemic) failures. Imagine leaving a school, but you continue footing the bill although you no longer use that school. Those consumers are stuck footing the local tax bill which goes to schools they have ultimately rejected. In essence, public school systems continue to benefit without ever having to serve this segment of the school aged population. Recently during the covid-19 pandemic years, NC has set a precedent to reward public schools long after they have lost students, thereby holding them unaccountable for downward shifts in attendance for an even higher monetary value- state ADMs. Both incidents are examples of waste.
A Libertarian Critique of "School Choice"
by Ryan Brown, LPNC Chair
One way to describe libertarianism is, "don't hurt people and don't take their stuff." In this piece, we'll explore how, in both the short term and long term, "school choice" is a violation of both of these principles. We will also talk about the danger of an ever-encroaching government that will always try and maintain control over the schooling of all people.
Government taxation to fund schools is a violation of the NAP.
Involuntary taxation is anti-libertarian
A core belief of libertarianism is that involuntary taxation (a redundant phrase) is a violation of a person's rights. Libertarians believe that all people own themselves and, by extension, the fruits of their labor or the items they acquire via free trade. No government or other person has a claim to the fruits of someone else’s labor. That person is free to use their wealth to help others, but it must be done voluntarily. Theft or coercion to direct that wealth to fund public or private schools is a violation of a person's rights and is contrary to the basic tenets of libertarianism.
"School choice" is funded with involuntary taxation.
What "school choice" proponents talk about these days is merely the use of taxed money, taken involuntarily and by using coercion, to fund private schools. The fact that the money is going back to private schools doesn't somehow change how the money was first obtained by the government. Just because the government gives money back to some people who were taxed does not mean that the money is somehow redeemed. Unless the money is given back to the people equal to the exact amount that they had taken from them, defeating the purpose of the entire system, this system of funding is just wealth redistribution. Libertarians are against the socialist redistribution scheme of funding when it comes to everything that isn't schooling. We should be against it when it comes to schooling as well.
We're the party of principle, not the party of tinkering with the government to enact reforms.
Libertarians and the Libertarian Party are supposed to stand on principles and fight for what is right. We are not the party of reform. Libertarian principles are based on respecting the inherent rights of all people, non-initiation of force, and the right to peacefully and voluntarily contract and trade. While some may argue that "school choice" will improve educational outcomes or make government schools better because they have to compete with private schools, none of that should matter for Libertarians. The "school choice" system that many propose does not give all people a "choice" where the taxed money is spent. If you do not have kids or you pay more in taxes than you get back, you are subsidizing other people's "choice" while having no say where your own tax money is going. The system of tax and redistribute is inherently coercive and does not give everyone a choice.
We already have school choice.
Sure, it is not the best choice, but we're thankful the government isn't involved more.
In North Carolina, we currently have a system where the government has a light touch on private school education. Because of this, we already have a wide range of real school choices. People have the freedom to choose a school that truly will meet the needs of their students. While people are still taxed to pay for the public education system, the government is more focused on regulating and mandating public schools than private and home schools. That's because the overwhelming majority of school funding goes to public schools. In the 2022-23 school year, over $10 billion was spent on public schools and less than $140 million spent on private schools via opportunity scholarships (https://www.ncseaa.edu/opportunity-scholarship-summary-of-data/).
There are current freedoms that the government hasn't infringed on yet.
Currently, nonpublic schools have some restrictions on them, but, in the grand scheme of things, they are not as bad as they could be. Nonpublic schools currently can choose who to accept and determine what standards they use. Private schools are allowed to be openly religious and have the ability to teach religious classes and have religious ceremonies. With a straightforward change of statute, this could all change. As soon as the government decides they want to regulate nonpublic schools like public schools, the nonpublic schools will lose all the freedoms they currently enjoy. They will, either de facto or de jure, become public schools.
Even though the current system is not perfect, change doesn't necessarily mean it will be better
The current system is not perfect, but change does not always mean progress. The belief that any change is progress is naive. When "progress" comes via government funding you are bound to get the restrictive government regulation. The only way that a government can keep their citizens in check is by controlling funding. Moving more government funding into nonpublic schools is just creating more incentive to regulate nonpublic schools.
"School choice" will entrench government in schools even more.
With funding come strings
What most people understand, but apparently don't appreciate, is that with government money there comes government control. We have seen this at the federal level and there is no reason to think it won't happen at the state level. If funding for nonpublic schools goes to 10 or 15 percent of total school funding, up from less than 2 percent, you can almost guarantee that there will be an increase in government regulation. While Republicans seem to have a grip on the General Assembly, and do not seem to want to increase regulation, their latest capitulation on Medicaid expansion should give most people pause. Generally, and over time, the only practical way that a government can control its citizens is via control of money. By coercive taxation and the threat to pull funding, governments can focus, like the Eye of Sauron, on any specific area they want to control. When it comes to schools, the less funding they can threaten the better.
Future laws/court rulings can turn private schools into de facto public schools very quickly
Currently nonpublic schools have a lot of room to operate freely. However, there are people who are determined to regulate and destroy private schools. Republicans are seemingly against greater regulation for nonpublic schools but there is nothing stopping them from trying to regulate schools in the future. If the General Assembly decides not to further regulate nonpublic schools, the courts may. Should the courts decide that public funds mean public control, there may be years or decades long battles over who can regulate schools and to what degree. Playing with fire might make you feel warm and comfortable in the short term. It could end up burning you badly if you play with it too much.
The average person loves government subsidies. They won't ever go away.
Finally, and maybe most cynically, is the fact that many people love government subsidies. Most people, at least without being pressed on the issue, believe in some sort of necessary taxation and control of the economy. Once the government gives a class of people a subsidy it almost never takes it away. Libertarians need to consistently argue against the tax and redistribute system that socialists advocate for.
Libertarians need to be the group of people who are consistently hacking away at government overreach, the ones who are fighting back against the ever-increasing government regulations. We need to be the people who preach the gospel of voluntary and contract-based life. Advocating for a better system of coercive taxation, more efficient socialist redistribution, and the merits of fine tuning of government systems, compared to abolishing them, is a job for reformers. Libertarians should not be reformers. Libertarians should be the party of principled truth seekers defending the best of the libertarian ideals. If we can't stick to first principles when we aren't in power, how are we ever going to convince the people to believe our position? If we want to win hearts and minds we shouldn't sell out when it costs us nothing to be principled.
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