School vouchers best way to break education monopoly

The chances of part of the state’s voucher program making it through Tuesday’s Florida Supreme Court hearing are unlikely. It’s right there as plain as day in Article 1 Section 3 of Florida’s Constitution: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The court will be faced with arguments about the constitutionality of one of the state’s types of vouchers, the Opportunity Scholarships program.

Florida’s Constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, is specific in regards to whether government money can go to religious organizations. Never mind the fact that taxpayer money is used in other areas aside from vouchers for such use — for example, religious hospitals receiving Medicaid money — because of that amendment and the strong lobby against school choice, vouchers, which represent one of the best ideas in a long time toward breaking the education monopoly, don’t stand much of a chance.

Most would agree that monopolies in any industry are bad. The same can be said of the education industry.

For example, try to imagine that the owner of one computer company was allowed to set the rules for all of the other computer companies. Okay, so maybe it’s not so hard to imagine. The same scenario is true of education. The government, owner of a large bureaucracy of schools, gets to set the rules and standards for private schools as well.

Not only that, but the government also taxes citizens, whether their kids attend government schools or not, in order to fund their often failing institutions.

Just like you can’t really blame those who might willingly take the services of the monopolistic computer company because the prices are cheaper, who can really blame those who would willingly take the “free” education they receive from the government? But in reality, it’s not free. Millions are being forced to pay for this system in crisis.

For too long government has had a monopolistic grip on the education systems on both the state and national levels. That monopoly has been a significant factor in lowering the quality of and standards in schools.

For my entire pre-college schooling, I attended a private school. At that private school the standards and expectations were higher than those that I observed at USF. I’m sure many factors contributed to that, but one factor was that the school, unlike public institutions, wasn’t guaranteed funding through the government. It had to raise money through tuition and donations. In short, it was dependent on its ability to attract students and money through being good at what it did: education.

Government schools are often guaranteed funding regardless of performance. That lack of pressure to excel can lead a typical public school to become apathetic and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Vouchers represent one way to ensure that public schools won’t become complacent.

Vouchers would open the door to more competition between the differing educational institutions, both public and private, and increase the quality, and hopefully decrease the cost, of both.

But since vouchers look to be dead in the water soon, maybe we should take another approach: less regulation — particularly from the federal level.

The No Child Left Behind Act and federal mandates in general, however well-intentioned they may be, represent a further cost to the taxpayers and a further power grab by government. The answer to those states that don’t want to live with federal regulations and standards is to quit taking federal money. The same would be true of local schools that don’t want to be controlled by the state.

One-size-fits-all schools shouldn’t be expected to work, and with excessive government regulation, those are the types of schools you get.

More competition is key to avoiding a system of schools that is lacking in quality and motivation to perform better. But it looks like vouchers likely won’t be the route to that competition in Florida. Maybe it will soon be time to take a look at cutting government regulations and control as a new route.

Adam Fowler is a USF