Call Me a Grinch

Advocates of school vouchers as a means of harnessing competition and choice to public education, thereby improving the dismal failure of monopoly public schools, with their nineteenth century command and control bureaucracies in charge, have a very good case to make. Regrettably, some of them are eager to insert the federal government into public schooling funding, in an unprecedented way. They see in the large numbers of students evacuated from New Orleans and elsewhere in the path of Hurricane Katrina, a Trojan Horse to bring the concept and practice to communities across America. Laudable as that goal may be, there is a fatal flaw. The education of America's children must remain a local responsibility, not a federal one.

Clint Bolick, president and general counsel for the Alliance for School Choice, complained recently in a National Review Online article for that educational "Grinches" are standing in the way of President Bush's plan for Congress to provide relief for "every displaced child" who fell victim to Katrina.

As Bolick explains, the National Education Association and National School Boards Association, as well as Sen. Ted Kennedy —— who is wedded to such organizations —— are outraged at this plan that would essentially create federal school vouchers for students attending both public and private schools.

Well, I suppose Mr. Bolick will have to include me with the aforementioned entities, as well, albeit for significantly different reasons.

While teachers' unions and liberal politicians almost to a man oppose any proposal that would threaten or diminish government control over public education —— and simultaneously expose public school failures and (heaven forbid) grant parents a choice in the education process —— the federal government simply has no business meddling in public education. Unfortunately, however, conservatives seem to be growing more and more comfortable with abandoning principles of federalism and fiscal restraint if it allows them to stand in opposition to the left. In other words, whereas conservatives once viewed opposition to their liberal counterparts as a means of protecting these principles, their reflexive opposition to their enemies now seems to be an end in itself.

I am an advocate of school choice at the local and state levels, but that's where school reform should remain. And while Mr. Bolick undoubtedly has the best interests of children at heart, further federalization of an industry that should operate detached from the federal government in the first place is hardly the answer. Alas, it can hardly be denied that far too many conservatives have fallen victim to the notion that government should solve the problems we should be solving ourselves.

What's more, Mr. Bolick's Alliance for School Choice clearly advocates state control of schooling options like voucher programs, tax credits, and charter schools, but confines its operations on the national level merely to "research, leadership development, and public relations" —— as well it should. Certainly he must understand that true education reform will occur most efficiently absent the federal government, but I can't help but think that he's content to sacrifice principle now that federal funds could be available to advance a special interest he holds dear.

Perhaps it could be argued that Mr. Bolick's job demands that he advance school choice, no matter what —— that it matters not how the cause is promoted so long as it flourishes. Fair enough. But we on the right must ask ourselves how relinquishing control of an agenda we know is most effectively managed ourselves over the long run, will ultimately serve the kids we seek to assist in the short term.

Moreover, Mr. Bolick's assessment that Congress should provide educational aid to all 372,000 children displaced by Katrina also seems disingenuous. Is he unaware that scores upon scores of (mostly) private and public schools from around the country have opened their doors to these kids already? A simple google search will show that untold numbers of school officials have been reaching out to these students for weeks —— unconcerned, I might add, about the potential of immediate or even future compensation from the government.

Allow me to share just a few examples. Public and private schools in Connecticut are making room for an influx of imported learners by shoving desks together and accepting larger class sizes. The American Montessori Society is offering to take students in various numbers and is willing to relocate teachers interested in moving south. And lest we forget our college kids, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a host of other colleges across the country have all teamed up to push back fall registration deadlines, offer tuition discounts, and extend offers of free room and board to incoming students. Amazingly, this is hardly an exhaustive list.

You have to read about such philanthropic behavior to believe it, considering that we're constantly told and expected to believe that America is hopelessly divided; that we are a 'nation divided' where the poor must fend for themselves. In short, we might be entitled to a bit more respect —— we, who quite clearly continue to demonstrate that there is no charity quite like the American experiment.

Those who would argue for increased federal involvement in our kids' schooling underestimate how quickly private citizens and organizations will accommodate every single child impacted by Katrina this year. And they grossly underestimate the time—consuming and bureaucratic mess that would evolve (Mayor Nagin/Gov. Blanco/FEMA, anyone?) if we were to toss billions more federal dollars at our schools giddily, hoping to be able to craft and coordinate an effective federal voucher system in a timely enough manner even to get our children into alternate schools by the New Year.

Perhaps worse than federal subsidy, in and of itself, is the stifling of private generosity such subsidy would cause. After all, why open our pocketbooks when the government will open them for us, no doubt increasing our tax burden along the way to compensate for such frivolous spending?

If we truly wish to assist our fellow man, we will admit that the federal government belongs neither in the business of education, nor —— in the words of James Madison —— in any other business of expending "on objects of benevolence, the money of [its] constituents."

If this makes me a Grinch, so be it. Would that many more Americans felt the same.

Trevor Bothwell is a contributing writer at Democracy Project, and can be contacted at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.

Advocates of school vouchers as a means of harnessing competition and choice to public education, thereby improving the dismal failure of monopoly public schools, with their nineteenth century command and control bureaucracies in charge, have a very good case to make. Regrettably, some of them are eager to insert the federal government into public schooling funding, in an unprecedented way. They see in the large numbers of students evacuated from New Orleans and elsewhere in the path of Hurricane Katrina, a Trojan Horse to bring the concept and practice to communities across America. Laudable as that goal may be, there is a fatal flaw. The education of America's children must remain a local responsibility, not a federal one.

Clint Bolick, president and general counsel for the Alliance for School Choice, complained recently in a National Review Online article for that educational "Grinches" are standing in the way of President Bush's plan for Congress to provide relief for "every displaced child" who fell victim to Katrina.

As Bolick explains, the National Education Association and National School Boards Association, as well as Sen. Ted Kennedy —— who is wedded to such organizations —— are outraged at this plan that would essentially create federal school vouchers for students attending both public and private schools.

Well, I suppose Mr. Bolick will have to include me with the aforementioned entities, as well, albeit for significantly different reasons.

While teachers' unions and liberal politicians almost to a man oppose any proposal that would threaten or diminish government control over public education —— and simultaneously expose public school failures and (heaven forbid) grant parents a choice in the education process —— the federal government simply has no business meddling in public education. Unfortunately, however, conservatives seem to be growing more and more comfortable with abandoning principles of federalism and fiscal restraint if it allows them to stand in opposition to the left. In other words, whereas conservatives once viewed opposition to their liberal counterparts as a means of protecting these principles, their reflexive opposition to their enemies now seems to be an end in itself.

I am an advocate of school choice at the local and state levels, but that's where school reform should remain. And while Mr. Bolick undoubtedly has the best interests of children at heart, further federalization of an industry that should operate detached from the federal government in the first place is hardly the answer. Alas, it can hardly be denied that far too many conservatives have fallen victim to the notion that government should solve the problems we should be solving ourselves.

What's more, Mr. Bolick's Alliance for School Choice clearly advocates state control of schooling options like voucher programs, tax credits, and charter schools, but confines its operations on the national level merely to "research, leadership development, and public relations" —— as well it should. Certainly he must understand that true education reform will occur most efficiently absent the federal government, but I can't help but think that he's content to sacrifice principle now that federal funds could be available to advance a special interest he holds dear.

Perhaps it could be argued that Mr. Bolick's job demands that he advance school choice, no matter what —— that it matters not how the cause is promoted so long as it flourishes. Fair enough. But we on the right must ask ourselves how relinquishing control of an agenda we know is most effectively managed ourselves over the long run, will ultimately serve the kids we seek to assist in the short term.

Moreover, Mr. Bolick's assessment that Congress should provide educational aid to all 372,000 children displaced by Katrina also seems disingenuous. Is he unaware that scores upon scores of (mostly) private and public schools from around the country have opened their doors to these kids already? A simple google search will show that untold numbers of school officials have been reaching out to these students for weeks —— unconcerned, I might add, about the potential of immediate or even future compensation from the government.

Allow me to share just a few examples. Public and private schools in Connecticut are making room for an influx of imported learners by shoving desks together and accepting larger class sizes. The American Montessori Society is offering to take students in various numbers and is willing to relocate teachers interested in moving south. And lest we forget our college kids, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a host of other colleges across the country have all teamed up to push back fall registration deadlines, offer tuition discounts, and extend offers of free room and board to incoming students. Amazingly, this is hardly an exhaustive list.

You have to read about such philanthropic behavior to believe it, considering that we're constantly told and expected to believe that America is hopelessly divided; that we are a 'nation divided' where the poor must fend for themselves. In short, we might be entitled to a bit more respect —— we, who quite clearly continue to demonstrate that there is no charity quite like the American experiment.

Those who would argue for increased federal involvement in our kids' schooling underestimate how quickly private citizens and organizations will accommodate every single child impacted by Katrina this year. And they grossly underestimate the time—consuming and bureaucratic mess that would evolve (Mayor Nagin/Gov. Blanco/FEMA, anyone?) if we were to toss billions more federal dollars at our schools giddily, hoping to be able to craft and coordinate an effective federal voucher system in a timely enough manner even to get our children into alternate schools by the New Year.

Perhaps worse than federal subsidy, in and of itself, is the stifling of private generosity such subsidy would cause. After all, why open our pocketbooks when the government will open them for us, no doubt increasing our tax burden along the way to compensate for such frivolous spending?

If we truly wish to assist our fellow man, we will admit that the federal government belongs neither in the business of education, nor —— in the words of James Madison —— in any other business of expending "on objects of benevolence, the money of [its] constituents."

If this makes me a Grinch, so be it. Would that many more Americans felt the same.

Trevor Bothwell is a contributing writer at Democracy Project, and can be contacted at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.