Free Education from the Grip of Government

by | Mar 24, 2003

Each year Drexel University sends hundreds of freshmen (at the threat of not graduating) to Philadelphia public schools as part of the service-learning program managed by Junior Achievement Inc. While the alleged benefits of “forced volunteerism” in our university is dubious, one effect is certain: we see first hand how poor Philadelphia’s education system is […]

Each year Drexel University sends hundreds of freshmen (at the threat of not graduating) to Philadelphia public schools as part of the service-learning program managed by Junior Achievement Inc. While the alleged benefits of “forced volunteerism” in our university is dubious, one effect is certain: we see first hand how poor Philadelphia’s education system is and it is making some wonder why our tax money keeps going to it. The answer to that question is also the problem: we have no choice.

Public education is free to American children in every state. Financed by taxpayers, often operated by underpaid employees (most of which happen to be a product of the same system), it is directed by bureaucrats. Advocates of free education fail to realize that our free education system is neither free nor educational.

Public schools are paid for somehow. In most states, Pennsylvania included, property taxes, school taxes (and others) support local school districts. By virtue of taxation — which is compulsory — property owners are forced to support public schools regardless of whether or not they send their children to one or have any children at all. They are forced to support the indoctrination of their own or other people’s children with ideas they may not agree with. Often, bureaucrats applaud themselves for “raising” this money for schools.

For all the purposes tax money is appropriated, education is among they very top uses that most taxpayers approve. This is because most people feel, and rightly so, that the education of their children is of paramount value.

Does this necessarily mean that the government should be responsible with administering it? The answer is no.

Government should not provide public education precisely because it so vitally important. The government has no incentive to administer education as well as a private business. The free market will punish private schools, putting them out of business if they fail to satisfy the expectations of their customers (in this case, parents) like any poor business. Public schools have no such incentive. They obtain their money by force and can remain decrepit indefinitely — as they have. They don’t earn your dollars by providing good service — they loot it from your bank account when you mail your tax forms.

Parents are compelled by law to educate their children via public school, private school, or home school. Home schooling is time-consuming and in most families where both parents work it is not even an option. In addition in most states, the IRS offers no tax deduction for parents who choose to home school their child: it is considered a “personal expense” and provides no “community service” except your own. Since private school is scarce and relatively more expensive, most of America’s youth are sentenced to public schooling. Yet private schooling could never be in higher demand, as our lawmakers will attest:

“A Heritage Foundation survey found that 47 percent of House members and 51 percent of senators with school-age children sent them to private schools in 2001–even though Congress voted that year against two House amendments and one Senate amendment that would allow other parents to do the same. That’s wp from 40 percent and 49 percent, respectively, in a similar 2000 poll by Heritage researchers. And many members live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, home to some of the best-performing public school systems in the nation.”

Making sure every child has an education is not the same as making sure every child has a public education. Realizing this and in response to pressure from constituents, “charter schools” have appeared and received much attention. While they compete with each other for government money, the curriculum must still be approved by the Board of Education to keep their charter. Philadelphia’s experiment to allow Edison to privately manage some of its schools seems more promising — it is a first step toward privatization.

There is no need for government to finance and manage education anymore than there is a need for government to finance and manage, say, clothing. If clothing was provided to every citizen by the government and I advocated that we privatize the clothing industry, there would invariably be protest. “Do you want everyone except the rich to walk around naked?” Yet the affordability and quality of clothing today is unprecedented. Can the same be said about education?

It’s preposterous and sick that these failing schools continue to function and that I have no choice but to support them. My university thinks that my taxes weren’t enough — I had to physically go there and teach them. Given the choice, I would never give a single cent of my money to support the filth and decadence I witnessed during my service learning experience.

Leonardo F. Urbano is an electrical engineering student at Drexel University.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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