I work for a public policy think tank which is devoted to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. Our research and analysis covers such issues as taxation, health care, civil justice, and more.
But the issue that occupies most of my time--the issue I believe is most important for the future of freedom--is education reform. Specifically, encouraging alternatives to the government-run school system.
Recent news items illustrate why school choice is so important.
Teacher organizations, including the state's most powerful labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association, lobbied hard this year against a school-deregulation bill. "Remember how deregulation got us into trouble on Wall Street?" one public school teacher in Tahlequah asked. "Why would we want that in our schools?"
"Take a look at the financial markets," added a public school teacher in Moore. "That's a good example of what's wrong with our country today--economic deregulation. Are we gonna do the same with public education?"
Economic deregulation? In reality, under President Bush, "Congress passed one of the most onerous financial regulations in Sarbanes-Oxley," Commonwealth Foundation scholar Nathan A. Benefield reminds us, "and added more than 1,000 pages per year in regulations to the Federal Register.
Moreover, he writes, "the mortgage crisis was a failure of government. Government actors, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act encouraged subprime lending. The Federal Reserve's effort to manipulate the U.S. economy by lowering, raising, lowering, and raising interest rates contributed to the boom in housing sales and prices, and then to the rise in mortgage defaults and foreclosures."
In any case, the statist mindset of these schoolteachers--economic freedom is "what's wrong with this country"--serves to illustrate why educational freedom is so important to the future of freedom generally. And that future is very much in doubt today.
It seems that every day's news is more appalling than the day before: the saga of Government Motors; more borrowing from the Chinese and higher taxes to pay for mind-boggling new levels of government spending; ongoing talk of nationalizing banks and health care and (insert your own industry here).
As conservative publisher Alfred S. Regnery writes, Barack Obama "will do whatever he can to shift the political spectrum to the left, to reshape the very foundations of American life, leaving, when he has finished, a European-style democratic socialist state."
And where, exactly, is the pushback going to come from? A nationwide Rasmussen poll in early April discovered that only 53 percent of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism. A full 20 percent think socialism is better, while 27 percent just aren't sure.
My point is, none of this should surprise us. For as Joel Belz pointed out in a recent column ('Children of the state'), with 9 out of 10 children attending government-owned-and-operated schools, we "long ago conceded the most critical territory of all."
"While strenuously wrestling over business and banking and health care and energy and a dozen other issues," he writes, "we cavalierly handed over to the state a perpetual 90 percent share of the nation's educational interests." And "with a nine-to-one edge in value-shaping influence, why shouldn't the government be producing products who think government-sponsored-everything is best?"
Of course, there are exceptions. Just as some conservatives manage to win elections despite media bias and voter fraud, some public-school students will learn to cherish economic freedom (while some private- and home-schooled students will not). But I would suggest this is largely in spite of, not because of, the education these public-school kids received from their tax-funded teachers.
So my message to anyone on the center-right is this: Regardless of which issues motivate you--if you're a person who clings to guns and religion; or if you want tax cuts and tort reform; or if you think it's better to torture terrorists than unborn babies--it's time to get serious about school choice.
Dutcher is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and editor of Choice Remarks (okschoolchoice.blogspot.com).
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