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Guest Post: Lesson from Socialist Europe – Time for School Choice

July 29th, 2008 by Halli

From Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance

Idaho has what is called a Blaine Amendment, a sad remnant of anti-Catholic bias that made its way into the state constitution.

It was a virtual condition of Idaho statehood, and a relic of a time when most public schools were Protestant in orientation and bigoted lawmakers wanted to make sure public monies stayed with Protestant schools and didn’t get siphoned off into parochial schools.

The rest of the world is beginning to move beyond this antiquated form of prejudice, and it will soon be time for Idaho to catch up.

In socialist Sweden, for example, where taxpayers fund cradle-to-grave welfare, genuine school choice was introduced into the educational system in 1992 and has proven so popular and effective that nations around the world are taking notice.

In 1992, for simple economic reasons, just 1.7 percent of high schoolers and 1 percent of elementary students attended private school.

But since, with reforms directing that education money should follow the student to the school of the parents’ choice, 17 percent of secondary students now attend private schools.

Said the enlightened head of the Ministry of Education, “I think most people, parents and children, appreciate the choice. You can decide what school you want to attend and that appeals to people.”

Sweden’s “independent schools” remain taxpayer financed, and are not allowed to charge tuition, which invites private enterprise into education to run cost-effective schools and turn a profit at the same time.

Social Democrats fleetingly considered canning the program when they resumed power in 1994, but found it so popular after just two years that they just tinkered around the edges.

In one privately-run chain of schools, children of different ages share classrooms and use curricula designed for their individual needs and aptitudes.

An education expert at the Cato Institute calls the Swedish program, while far from perfect, a “beacon,” and says that “since it’s the best thing in the rich world, it’s definitely worth watching.”

The notion has already spread to Britain, where the Conservative party is working on a similar program if they regain political power.

Voucher programs for low-income students now exist in a few places in the U.S., such as Washington, D.C. (where Democrats are working overtime to kill it dead) and in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Swedish officials observe that, far from draining funds from public education, the competition from independent schools has forced public schools to offer a better education product, raising their own academic standards and improving efficiency.

And because parents now have realistic options other than traditional public schools, they have much more influence in public schools, which now must give parents reasons to choose them instead of the alternatives.
Remarkably, even the Swedish Teachers’ Union now doesn’t “have an opinion about which owner (i.e., the state or private enterprise) is better.”
A poll conducted by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and co-sponsored by the Idaho Values Alliance found that a shockingly low 12% of Idaho taxpayers would choose a “Regular Public School” over alternatives such as private schools (39%), charter schools (25%) or homeschooling (21%).

It’s clearly time for Idaho and the rest of the United States to move from the Dark Ages of monopolistic public education into the sunlit lands of parental choice.

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Posted in Education, Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Taxes | No Comments »

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