A few weeks ago, the Youngs were in the family land yacht … er, minivan, and had one of the local news radio stations playing. In one among the abundance of political ads to which Washingtonians are frequently subjected, the President of the Maryland State Teachers Association repeated many of the myths that motivate the government school monopolists. Chief among them? The claim that Americans, who spend more per pupil than any industrialized nation, is somehow failing to “fully fund” education. And then there was my favorite line: “Every child is entitled to a quality public education.”
And hence, my Jimmy Carter moment. I asked my second grader, “Jimmy, do you care whether your education is public or private?” Being a fairly sensible kid, albeit one who is probably only vaguely aware of the difference between private schools and government schools, he responded “No.”
And of course, why should he care, so long as it is of high quality? While a purely pragmatic response, as a believer in liberty, I was pleased with his response. With the recent and rarely discussed report that nearly half of the county schools (32 of 68) failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, there is also a practical reason to do so.
Much of the leftist propaganda surrounding education hopes that the listener ignores the sotto voce qualifications of reflexively defending the government school monopoly. Most would not dispute that every child should receive a quality education. But public school monopolists, like those appearing in this journal in recent weeks, insist that it must be a “public” (read: government-controlled) education.
Prince William County’s race for school board chairman presents one of the more interesting conflicts on the issue of school choice, pitting incumbent Woodbridge member Steve Keen, a proponent of school choice in virtually all of its forms, against incumbent Chairman Lucy Beauchamp, who attempts to present herself as a “moderate conservative” (emphasis on “moderate”), but is a staunch defender of the government school monopoly.
Many GOP activists (those whose vision of politics extends beyond that which merely seeks to obtain and maintain political power) dispute that Beauchamp is a “conservative” of any sort. To be sure, she has twice sought the Republican endorsement in her reelection bids. But Republicans expecting leadership from Beauchamp on educational reform issues important to parents have been too often left wanting, and have twice denied her that endorsement. Four years ago, it was denied even though Beauchamp was unopposed for reelection.
Indeed, Beauchamp’s credentials as an apologist for big government were firmly established eight and nine years ago. As appointed chairman of the school board, she allowed government schools to be used as the stalking horse for higher taxes, when county supervisors sought electoral approval to virtually double the tax on prepared food, claiming that enriching the general fund was necessary and would guarantee school construction and repairs.
One might be tempted to accuse Beauchamp of having “led” efforts to raise taxes, crediting her with an attribute for which there has been little evidence: “leadership.” To the contrary, it too often seems that Beauchamp has been “led” by the educational bureaucrats employed by the county schools. It is therefore little wonder than Beauchamp’s most prominent endorsement has come from the Prince William Education Association.
Keen, on the other hand, has placed himself firmly in the mainstream of reform efforts designed to empower parents, efforts which would promote not government-controlled education, but excellence and choice in education.
The main target of government schools monopolists in recent weeks has been the most modest of reform efforts, the charter school proposal to create a Prince William Linguistics Academy. School-choice opponents in these pages, usual suspects of letter writers, and two of my colleagues who have sought election as Democrats for the House of Delegates, have launched an effort to kill it with “the death of a thousand cuts.”
I don’t have a dog in this fight, except as an advocate of freedom and educational excellence. In the interests of full disclosure, I have broken bread with Samia Harris, the individual at the head of the PWLA effort: once, at a Committee of 100 meeting, more than a year ago. And she recently contacted me regarding the attacks being launched against her. But I don’t particularly advocate her proposal (neither do I oppose it) or any other.
I simply believe in freedom. The PWLA is simply a convenient target, the first charter school proposal to come before the school board. But individuals who have never found fault with government waste and ineffectiveness in social programs or in the bloated bureaucracy in county schools have found fault with the proposal’s budget for administrative expenses.
An epiphany? Doubtful. The legion of excuses cited by opponents of the PWLA proposal (including dubious textual analysis of some of the language of the application) can hardly disguise the fact that they oppose charter schools and school choice on principle, pretensions of neutrality to the contrary notwithstanding.
What they do advocate is too frequently nonsense. Another recent accusation? That Ms. Harris has contributed to pro-school choice school board candidates. One of my colleagues has suggested that this creates an “appearance of impropriety” and that recipients of such contributions should therefore recuse themselves from the decision making process on the PWLA application.
In hearing to this argument, however, is the cynical view that politicians votes are and can be bought by publicly disclosed contributions. Do votes follow money, or does money follow votes and principles? Interestingly, those most frequently expressing the former view rarely apply it to their ideological compadres, and direct it exclusively to their political enemies, suggesting that it is political opportunism of the worst sort. And she has yet to suggest that those candidates receiving the endorsement of the PWLA should recuse themselves from voting on teachers’ pay raises.
The sad fact is that too little intelligent debate will surround any of our elections, and most especially, those for school board. Many voters will be more concerned about whether candidates are hausfraus who have volunteered in the schools, rather than their management skills or principles. Far too few will concern themselves with the private promises made in surveys kept secret (unlike the survey filled out by candidates seeking the GOP endorsement, previously made public on its Web site), or that those whose most prominent “qualification” is their time as a volunteers frequently will have been coopted by the educrats. Few if any candidates will be asked about the last substantive book or article they read on school reform, or if they have even read one.
The PWLA application may be the most immediate victim of the Left’s continuing war on freedom. But the continuing victims are our children.
An attorney, Young lives with his wife and their two sons in Montclair.