|Economic Independence and Educational Choice
By: Kate Karman
“Nothing will more quickly destroy independent Christian schools than state aid; their freedom and independence will soon be compromised, and before long their faith.”1 – George Bernard Shaw.
Economic independence from government aid is essential for educational independence from government regulation. In order to maintain personal freedom of choice in education, parents must be economically independent from the government.
“Educational choice” has of late been a rallying cry amongst conservatives. Educational choice is needed. Without it there would be no line of defense against the current public school system that has found it increasingly difficult to provide an adequate education for children. With the advent of Outcome Based Education, academics take a backseat to the “feel good math” and politically correct ideologies that dominate the classroom. Family values and morals are overlooked in favor of sex education and revisionist history. Teddy Roosevelt pointed out the folly of education without morals: “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”2 Educational choice will at the very least give parents a chance to get out of the public school system and direct their own children’s education the way they feel best. But should government be involved in providing the educational choice?
Oregonians already have educational choice. In fact, in 1925 in a case originating in Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of parents to choose an alternative to public education for their children.3 Parents may educate their children in the public schools, in registered private schools4, in unregistered private schools, or in minimally regulated home schools5. If one school venue does not meet the educational needs, parents have the freedom to choose which of the alternatives would better suit their child. Still Oregonians cry out for “educational choice!”
When the people cry out, the government is all too quick to respond. In order to encourage “educational choice” and “free enterprise” in the school system, many are calling for the government to create “charter schools,” “vouchers,” and “tax credits” to be used for the expenses of private or home schools. Nothing could be more damaging to the parents’ freedom to educate their children in the way they see best than to allow government to become involved in educational choice.
While parents may view it as getting their tax money back, the government will undoubtedly see it as “government funding.” “Contrary to populist myth, 20th century American governments have not regarded tax money as belonging to the taxpayers. Apostles of state power will likely see any voucher program as government funding, and they will demand government control.”6 It’s a well-known proverb, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
With government funding comes government regulations and a loss of freedom. The government has an obligation to make sure they are responsibly using taxpayer’s money. The government doesn’t want to “buy a pig in a poke,” nor should it. Robert Dabney, Stonewall Jackson’s chief of staff during the Civil War and one of the greatest evangelical theologians in American history, put it this way: “The magistrate owes it to his constituents to see that the public money is well spent in teaching what shall be for the public good.”7
Government regulations, which follow government funding, would prove to be the downfall of personal freedom in education. Thomas A. Shannon, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association, said, “Tuition tax credits for private elementary and secondary schools would profoundly change the character of private education. A simple fact of political life is that public regulation follows money.”8 Early in this century, J. Gresham Machen, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, warned against government funding of schools, public or private. “Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.” He goes on to state, “The only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools…”9
In early 20th century England, the Fabian Society (a socialist organization) came out in favor of just such government funding. As one of the board members resigned in protest, because he did not believe the government should fund religious instruction, George Bernard Shaw rebuked him with this insight: “Nothing will more quickly destroy independent Christian schools than state aid; their freedom and independence will soon be compromised, and before long their faith.”10 Soon Shaw was proved right.
While “educational choice” is usually thought of as choice in elementary and secondary education, examples of government interference in private schools have already been demonstrated in private colleges. In 1977 Grove City College, in Pennsylvania, was required by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to sign a form stating that it met the requirements of Title IX prohibiting sex discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” On principle, the college declined to sign stating that, while it did not discriminate, it did not believe it was required to sign because it had never accepted federal funds.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled that private schools must comply with government regulations even if they receive no direct federal funds because they enroll students who receive tuition money from the government. “Even though the checks are payable to individual students, not the school, the Court said any scholarship, loans, or grants to students ‘constitute federal financial assistance to that entity.’”11 John Dellenback, congressman from Oregon serving on the House Education Committee during the crafting of the student-loan legislation, felt that regulating private schools in any way was not an intent of that legislation. “To the best of my recollection that was not the intention. Our target purpose was to help students, not institutions, by providing the student with choice.”12 Now, Grove City College and Hillsdale College in Michigan have both refused to sign Title IX on principle, and because of that, they will not enroll students receiving federal aid. It was made clear that students could “take their (grants) elsewhere or attend Grove City without federal financial assistance.”13 While this statement may seem harsh to some, this is the true meaning of “educational choice.”
The freedom parents have to educate their children the way they deem best is a valuable freedom and one to be protected at any cost. However, dependence on government money in the form of tax credits or school vouchers will lead to increased regulations on all public, private and home schools and the eventual loss of any or all school choice. Accepting government money in any form for education is the surest way to lose the educational freedom Oregonians already possess. Economic dependence in any field limits personal freedom in that field. Economic freedom and responsibility insure personal freedom.
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