Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Buy them out

An education proposal for extraordinary times

Issue: "Wealth and poverty," March 14, 2009

If I told you that there's someone in my very middle-class neighborhood who, rather than being upset with the high-speed re-direction of our culture toward a socialist mindset, is ready to pour billions of additional dollars into completing that transition, would it bother you?

What if I said that there's someone just like that in your neighborhood as well? And someone with identical intentions in every neighborhood in America?

You know, if you're a regular reader of this column, that I don't truck in conspiracy theories. So I'm not here to tell you some dark and scary secrets. I will argue, on the other hand, how frightening it is that something can be so very out in the open and still escape our attention. And then I want to propose something of an answer.

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The sinister influence is the state-sponsored school system. I already argued here, quite recently, how absurd it is to fret about the possibility of nationalized banks, nationalized auto manufacturers, nationalized health care, nationalized energy producers, nationalized retirement programs, and nationalized radio networks-how absurd it is to worry about all that when we long ago nationalized the educational systems that shape the worldview of 90 percent of all Americans.

Why should anyone be even the tiniest bit surprised if people who have been taught by statist educators should end up with statist ideas and values? Why, indeed, should we expect them to have anything else? (To make matters worse, we have to admit, way too many private educators-especially on the college and graduate level-have joined the chorus of those singing the praises of statist solutions.)

Now, of course, in a blitzkrieg of incredibly quick developments, we're watching the actualization of precisely what just a few months ago we so much feared. And only a relative few seem at all concerned that their nation is not just looking in a socialist direction, but is trundling happily down that path.

Maybe we should get used to the fact that there is no short-term solution. So here's something to think about. What if we could demonstrate that saying goodbye to statist education would save the public profound amounts of money-and produce a more educated public at the same time? What if we could make that demonstration in a manner that was palatable to the huge public-education bureaucracy?

Everyone should get well acquainted with these basic facts; the estimated figures are almost certainly tilted not against but in favor of statist schools:

• About one in six Americans (around 50 million people) are students somewhere-kindergarten through high school.

• About 9 out of 10 of those 50 million (45 million people) are in state-sponsored schools; about 1 out of 10 (5 million people) are in private schools or are homeschooled.

• State-sponsored education at these levels typically costs in excess of $12,000 per student per year. The total bill is well over $500 billion every year.

• Privately sponsored education is typically accomplished at a per-student average of $9,000 per year-about 75 percent of the cost of statist education. (The comparable cost of homeschooling is harder to calculate).

Here's the point-and the proposal. A $500 billion budget item is no trifling matter. It offers huge possibilities for savings. A measly 1 percent cut amounts to $5 billion!

So why not make an offer to 10 percent of America's publicly educated students-that's 4.5 million children-to take a $6,000 annual buyout to choose a non-public school that they like? Instead of spending $12,000 each on those 4.5 million kids, the public will have to spend only $6,000-a savings of $27 billion for the various public purses involved. Even in Washington, $27 billion should count for something.

Or, to make it really palatable to the bureaucracy, offer just $5,000 to the student-and a $1,000 bonus to the public school that now has no obligation to spend a single penny on said student! The more who leave, the bigger the bonus. (There's plenty of precedent in farm country where farmers have long been subsidized for not farming.) Both sides should find that worth some doodling on a scratchpad.

In ordinary times, I understand why all this would be like whistling in the wind. But these are hardly ordinary times.

If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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