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School Choice, and Fairness, Growing by Leaps and Bounds

February 3, 2014 - 6:00pm

School Choice Week this year gave more reason to celebrate than ever.

Choice now takes many forms, including homeschooling, charters and vouchers.

Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman first proposed school vouchers in the mid-1950s. It is not an idea that just came around the corner.

But this movement is growing more rapidly of late. One reason is that conservatives are learning it is a slam dunk for them and a losing issue for the left wing.

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., have introduced bills that would allocate federal education funds to follow students to the schools of their choice. Alexander's proposal would consolidate $24 billion from 80 federal education programs into a pot to be distributed to states as $2,100 scholarships that would follow low-income children to schools of their choosing.

Not long after Friedman's suggestion that children be given vouchers that they could use at any school, government or private, schoolteachers joined the union movement and the union bosses have fought long and hard to keep vouchers.

Florida took the lead in helping children get an education by a fortuitous set of circumstances. A Tampa businessman named John Kirtley began working to establish a system of tax credit scholarships and Jeb Bush, who was elected governor in 1998, worked with the Legislature to establish Opportunity Scholarships for poor children.

Unions went to court and succeeded in getting a poorly-reasoned legal decision that crippled the state's program but Kirtley's scholarship program continues to grow.

The advantages of school choice are clear:

-- It saves taxpayers money.

-- It helps the public schools by providing competition.

-- It rescues children who are trapped in failing schools. That is the ultimate justification.

Liberals are opposed, but the arguments are shallow and the politics are against them.

The biggest beneficiaries are children from poor black families. Black people vote overwhelmingly for liberals, yet are overwhelmingly in favor of vouchers. Simply by helping poor people, school choice programs are bound to turn liberal votes into conservative votes.

To the Education Blob, public schools are a jobs program for adults and it is all about the money.

They claim, falsely, that school choice robs the government schools of money. They claim, falsely, that more money will improve the government schools.

Another ludicrous claim is that choice isn't fair because private schools don't use the same tests and standards as public schools. But private schools have their own tests and standards, which may very well be better. If parents are satisfied with that, the opinions of liberals really are of no consequence.

The state spends money to educate children, not to fund public schools.

One can make a very good argument that all children could be given choice, not just the poor.

Liberals are supposed to be all about fairness. So, what is fair about families who pay to educate their children in private school also having to pay taxes to educate other people's children?

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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