The Great State of Indiana is about to test statewide school choice on a meaningful scale. This a major victory that has attracted little media attention at a time when the MSM narrative is focused on same sex marriage splitting the Republicans, and the inevitable tide of history sweeping away the evangelical wing of the GOP into the dustbin of history, or at least out of the its status as the party's reliable base.
Michael Gerson of the Washington Post explains why the Indiana experiment is important:
The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state's school voucher program. Under it, more than half a million low- and middle-income Hoosier students - and about 62 percent of all families - are eligible for state aid to help pay for a private or religious school.
This is what school choice traditionally has lacked: scale.
The reason that choice experiments have been confined to localized, small scale projects with limited prospects is the alliance of normally opposite classes in a vested interest embrace: labor unions and property owners. On the one hand, the teacher unions and bureaucrats, and on the other bourgeois owners of homes in districts with good schools. They have paid a premium for their homes in such districts. If educational opportunity ever were to be equalized through a system of vouchers, the price premium on a broad swath of higher end real estate would go down.
This generally has relegated vouchers to the margins of education reform, in underfunded micro-programs aimed at the very poorest. (snip)
A limited choice program is not the same thing as a healthy, responsive educational market. "A rule-laden, risk-averse sector," argues Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, "dominated by entrenched bureaucracies, industrial-style collective-bargaining agreements and hoary colleges of education will not casually remake itself just because students have the right to switch schools."
But now, the Indiana Supreme Court has laid down some important legal landmarks. There may be a trend here:
Only recently, a few innovative governors - particularly former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal - have decided to bring this promise to scale. The Louisiana Supreme Court will soon issue a judgment on Jindal's program. The Indiana verdict hardly could have been more favorable to the choice movement. The court found that Indiana is serving valid educational purposes both by maintaining a public school system and by providing options beyond it. And it held (as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002) that including religious schools as an option does not establish religion. "Any benefit to program-eligible schools, religious or non-religious," the Indiana court concluded, "derives from the private, independent choice of the parents."
These principles have broader implication. The pursuit of the public interest does not always require a public bureaucracy.
The plain fact is that the government takeover of public education was a very bad idea. Bureaucracy eats up close to half of the resources, and there are few rewards for superior performers but an abundance of protections for incompetents. The results are predictable.
The other plain fact is that taxpayers can no longer afford to support an ineffective education system, never mind the ideological indoctrination that's part of the Progressives' package. The goal ought to be competing with government schools for taxpayer funding. Let the parents decide whether to go with the one size fits all government plan, or choose something else. Competition always works, so Indiana marks a great start down a path that targets one of the pillars of the Democratic Party's base.
Former Governor Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled state legislature are the heroes of this chapter of a movement that holds great promise to push back the Left.