Proposed federal legislation for the District of Columbia, if enacted, would usher in the most ambitious program of parental school choice in the nation.
The bill, the Educational Freedom Accounts Act (EFAA), was proposed and introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in January. If enacted, nearly all K-12 students in Washington, D.C. would be eligible to receive an annual deposit to an education savings account. The amount would be equivalent to at least 80 percent of the per-student expenditure in the District’s traditional public schools. Think of these “deposits” as vouchers that can be used not only for tuition expenses in private schools but for other educational expenses as well.
Many education stakeholders will come to love these accounts. Economists who have an appreciation for Milton Friedman’s original proposal for universal school vouchers will recognize that these stipends are nearly universal because they allocate at least 80 percent of the regular public school per-pupil expenses to each grant.
Constitutional law experts who respect Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and the 10th Amendment will appreciate that our nation’s fundamental laws allow this kind of federal legislation for the District of Columbia. These experts will also be pleased to learn the program, if passed, would not involve the unconstitutional federal Department of Education.
Taxpayers and the many state-level taxpayers’ associations prefer this kind of funding for K-12 education systems, because EFAA and other similar programs result in less government spending and a better product — one that has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of students.
What parent will not welcome the power to choose where their children are educated? Even the laziest parents will not object to this legislation, which does not prevent students from continuing to attend the schools they are now enrolled in. And even better, they will silently benefit when the ensuing competition drives that nearby school’s performance upward.
Lovers of freedom and liberty welcome legislation such as this because, in part, it would help to thwart our country’s current totalitarian drift. As Robert Jeffrey Schundler, one of the founders of the Alliance for Free Choice in Education, put it, “America now stands at a critical crossroads. A turn to the left is tyranny. A turn to the right will ‘secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves total and our posterity.’ Every American can use these precious days to steer our ship of state back onto the Constitutional Track.”
The underprivileged and advocates for civil rights want parental empowerment. Recently, TV journalist and civil rights advocate Juan Williams observed:
“As a lifelong Democrat, a minority, I’m looking into this camera and I’m challenging President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and the rest of the Democrats to stop favoring unions, start favoring what’s best for our kids.… The Democrats are behind the eight-ball on this one. They are letting down minorities. [School choice] is the civil rights issue of this generation.”
Despite these advantages this legislation isn’t perfect. EFAA would fail to provide a means by which parents can have reliable consumer information about their nearby schools. Even teachers’ union opponents of school vouchers have argued parents lack the knowledge to make good choices among schools. It has been part of their talking points against school vouchers for decades — as I have seen first-hand during hard fought campaigns in California.
Here, the teachers’ unions are right, but they are right for the wrong reason. They want to use the lack of knowledge argument as an excuse to block parental choice rather than to do something about the woeful condition of our public schools. Parents, including the more affluent, remain confused about school performance and other characteristics because, in part, these same opponents of school choice are part of the public education juggernaut that provides all kinds of look-good propaganda about public schools. These parents know very little about private schools that typically hide their information in an effective strategy that allows the consumer to live under the popular misconception that private schools are so much better.
The Cruz legislation is a very good first step toward a truly comprehensive system of educational choice for the parents of children in our nation’s capital. Amending it to establish reliable consumer information for parents would make it a real game changer.