I spent the latter half of my week in our nation’s beautiful capital presenting to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) one of the most promising mechanisms for bringing about real, needed education reform.
The policy works on simple principles of majority rule, with some built-in protections for the pragmatists among us. Parents petition for a reform, either school closure, bringing in a charter manager, or giving any child from the school an educational voucher. If they get the simple majority, that reform is implemented in the next school year. For the purposes of this post I’ll leave it at that, noting that there is actually very little more to it.
The policy was met by a reform friendly audience–ALEC is a group devoted to Jeffersonian principles of governance–with open arms; a few idiosyncrasies were dealt with, clarifications made, but nary a negative comment to be found, although one question did come up.
The question went something like this:
The voucher component of the parent trigger provides absolutely no additional oversight of private schools, no system of accountability for these private educational models. Now, we just spent a lot of time increasing transparency and accountability in public schools and this wouldn’t hold private schools to any sort of standard. I know the model bill is vague, but wouldn’t you recommend some increased oversight of private schools if we are giving away taxpayer-funded vouchers?
My reply to this is that we’re not being vague, but rather quite prescriptive. There should be no additional oversight of private schools.
A voucher plan would create a system of accountability more robust than could countless layers of bureaucracy, and, better yet, the accountability wouldn’t rest on government, but on consumers as it does in most every other sector of our lives. Accountability is necessary in government because government monopolizes a market. When we look for accountability policy in public schools we are doing so not because government is the best judge of quality in education, but because we understand people don’t have any other legitimate choice in that market. And without choice there is no way for consumers to hold service providers accountable. In a voucher system consumers are empowered to choose other schools and so accountability is a given.
My advice about accountability would be to remove every layer of government oversight on private and public schools and completely open the market with 100% funded vouchers for every kid that wants one. You’d have just saved yourself and your state an awful lot of time and money. I can see nothing in keeping more with Jeffersonian principles than that.
Legislators who might want oversight of private schools are well-meaning. Small-government Republicans, attending a meeting of a Jeffersonian group like ALEC, have a desire to best serve their constituents – but sometimes can’t avoid being subconsciously swayed into nanny-statism, and sometimes advocate for government regulation in a private market without even knowing it. When we spend so much time working incrementally at reforms, working within a broken system, we can become intertwined with the broken system to the point of defending its faults.