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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Should conservatives demand government funding for independent schools?

Marshall Fritz died on November 4, 2008. He was chairman, founder, and former president of the Alliance for the Separation of School & State, an organization committed to the “full separation of school and state” and to “rescinding government-compelled attendance, curriculum, credentialing, accreditation, and financing" in education.

Fritz was a radical private school advocate and virtually alone, even among libertarians, in his opposition to charter schools, voucher programs, standardized testing and other education reform schemes that only help to extend the reach of government into an area over which it should have no jurisdiction while doing little to improve education outcomes.

The Alliance for the Separation of School & State would no doubt oppose the conservative objective to get full public financing for independent and religious schools.

In his column in today’s London Free Press, Rory Leishman wrote:

In preparation for an impending national election, Britain's Conservative Party Leader David Cameron has promised, in a key policy paper, that his government would extend full funding to secular and faith-based independent schools. Is this a sure formula for political suicide?

Many Canadian conservatives might think so. They recall how Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory led his party to crushing defeat in the 2007 provincial election by promising his government would restore partial funding to independent, faith-based schools.

Independent schools perform well because they are independent of government. Government funding – and, with it, government control – would likely cause independent schools to achieve results similar to those of public schools.

Social conservatives who invite the state to take a greater roll in education, should read “The Goals of Public Schooling: The Educationist Movement,” a chapter in Murray Rothbard’s book Education: Free and Compulsory.

Here’s an excerpt:

There were other and more dangerous goals, however, particularly among the educationists who were the main forces in the drive, and who took control of the state boards of education and teachers' training colleges which instructed the public school teachers. As early as 1785, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, preaching before the New Hampshire General Court, advocated equal and compulsory education for all, emphasizing that the children belong to the State and not to their parents.[48] The influential Benjamin Rush wanted general education in order to establish a uniform, homogeneous, and egalitarian nation.

The doctrine of obedience to the State was the prime goal of the father of the public school system in North Carolina, Archibald D. Murphey. In 1816, Murphey planned a system of state schools as follows:

all children will be taught in them … in these schools the precepts of morality and religion should be inculcated, and habits of subordination and obedience be formed…. The state, in the warmth of her solicitude for their welfare, must take charge of those children, and place them in school where their minds can be enlightened and their hearts can be trained to virtue.

With this insight, anyone with an authentic interest in improving education, and restoring the roll of parents in the process, would be wise to advocate for the complete separation of school and state.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on February 21, 2009 | Permalink


Separation of school and state? I'm all for it. But I don't see how a basic voucher program would violate this ideal in principle.

The State could simply offer a printed voucher which could be spent at any school (whether private, religious, or structured as a non-coercive local co-op). Parents who wanted to homeschool their children could cash in the voucher at the end of the year, provided their child passed a simple standardized test in reading, writing, mathematics, etc.

The problem for libertarians, I suppose, is the question of how these vouchers would be paid for... Personally, I'm dead set against the concept of income tax, but I think a consumption tax (2% or so) to pay for basic education is not unreasonable. Every transaction, after all, involves employees and manufacturers who must have a basic grasp of reading, writing, and calculation.

Ensuring that everyone has the skills to be productive is necessary for a free market to function. Practically speaking, an illiterate and unemployed underclass is a recipe for socialist revolution.

I guess I'm not an ideological purist on this issue, but I don't see how one can be without creating a largely uneducated populace, incapable of making rational decisions and being productive.

Posted by: Jeremy Maddock | 2009-02-22 3:44:25 AM

You claim to support "ideological purists" who want no government funding for independent schools. The reality is that the government is setting the guidelines for many independent schools with, and often without, providing funding. I suspect that we will see more government involvement in independent schools, not less.

The reality is that families cannot afford to pay high education taxes AND tuition. Why not allow at least a portion of the education taxes of these "ideological purists" who support independent schools to be applied to their children's education?

Posted by: Gila Martow | 2009-02-22 6:28:03 AM

All government funding comes with strings attached. Anyone seeking such funding should be prepared to live with those strings. That said, so many groups of highly questionable usefulness receive government funding that there's no reason independent schools, who actually do something worthwhile, shouldn't also receive some.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-22 10:04:33 AM

My personal preference would be to remove government completely from the education system, but that is not likely unless the whole system collapses and we start over. Otherwise a voucher system would be much more fair as it would give parents a choice, which is why the teachers' unions fight it tooth and nail.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-02-22 11:32:58 AM

The optimist in me says that vouchers would be the best thing for Ontario and voters might be attracted to the policy. The cynic in me says the policy would be electoral suicide because teachers unions have too much undeserved credibility at the moment since they haven't gone on strike during McGuinty's reign, and the voters would give more credence to the unions' hyperventilating than they would otherwise. The pragmatist in me says the middle ground should be for Conservatives to lift all geographic and demographic restrictions on where parents send their kids to school. As long as the parent is willing to pay for transportation, they should be able to send their kid to any school in their district. They should also be allowed to send their kid to any school board in the district, regardless of race, religion, or cultural background. If the Catholic board does a better job than the public board, then all parents should be allowed to send their kid to a Catholic school. If they then find that they disagree with the Catholic board's policies, then they can send their kid back to the public board. Increased choice and competition, without the bogeyman of public support for private schools.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-02-22 12:08:15 PM

Should conservatives demand government funding for independent schools?
Posted by Western Standard on February 21, 2009


Posted by: JC | 2009-02-22 5:32:34 PM

While I believe in private funding, I see a problem in handling the radicalization of students in some religious based schools.

Posted by: DML | 2009-02-22 10:45:13 PM

I see a problem in handling the radicalization of students in some religious based schools. - My reply to that is that it's hard to imagine a group more radical than a public teacher's union.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-22 11:30:44 PM

Like so much of libertarian rant, the ideological solution ignores the existing situation. Yes, the libertarian should say no to public funding of private schools as JC above, but what JC didn't say was that there should also be no public funding for, nor existence of, public schools - a little harder sell to the mainstream.

If one takes the reformist attitude and advocates for example, vouchers with no strings attached or full tax credit cost recognition, at least there is a hope of breaking up the almost complete monopoly of public education. Libertopia won't come from a miracle, nor the current mindset of the teaching "profession".

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-02-23 10:45:31 AM

Good Point John. It was easy to answer with a single word "because" I'm against state funded (and directed) schooling.

Posted by: JC | 2009-02-23 5:06:55 PM

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