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Conservatism and compassion

"Conservatism and compassion" Continued...

Civil society—communities of compassion and innovation
Communities cannot flourish without a vibrant civil society, from reading programs to blood drives to summer camps. Individual Americans gave $229 billion to nonprofit organizations in 2012. That’s about 1.7 percent of personal income. If we could grow that to just 2 percent of personal income, it would mean an addition of $40 billion for civil society.

How? One way is to place individuals, rather than government, in the center of deciding which charities will receive the billions of dollars currently distributed to charities via government grants. Instead, the bulk of these dollars could be re-purposed to incentivize additional personal giving.

Taxpayers who give to charity would receive a refundable credit—perhaps 33 to 50 percent of their giving, up to the amount of the credit. This would spur Americans to boost their giving, particularly those with lower incomes who don’t itemize and currently receive no tax benefit from charitable deductions.

The result would expand the net dollars funneled to charity while also democratizing the process. By shifting control of these funds from bureaucratic grant makers to individual citizens, organizations will be far freer to innovate yet simultaneously more accountable to local donors. Finally, we would predict a boost in volunteerism, since individuals are much more likely to volunteer with organizations they support financially.

Education
The brilliance of American innovation has hardly touched American public education in decades. Republicans must drive reforms that allow the creativity seen everywhere else in our economy to lift the educational experience of every American child.

Most importantly, we must free local public schools from the one-size-fits-all dogma that often dominates public education. How? By elevating parents and children from passive recipients of pre-fab services to empowered citizens who can select the best fit for their child from among a variety of options. We know our system is broken when children follow the funding instead of funding following the child.

Allowing parents to take their child’s public funds to any school of their choosing would certainly accomplish this goal. But even lower levels of choice, such as the options provided by charter schools not bound by traditional school regulations, can help greatly.

Ultimately, shifting control of kids’ education from state bureaucracy and unions to parents will allow schools to innovate. Many will start to harness the powers of technology to boost education in ways that universities already are. Teachers will be freed to act as mentor-coaches, while highly personalized online programs that adapt to each child’s progress can facilitate much individual student instruction. At the same time, families that prefer low-tech settings will be free to choose that also—setting up myriad options that ultimately will prove those that work best for kids. The wealthy already have access to all of this. It’s time to expand that opportunity to all American kids.

Healthcare
Next to education, flexibility and innovation is most needed in healthcare. One of countless ways to do this is by enabling each state to use federal funds as block grants to creatively address the unique needs its citizens face. This would allow states to control Medicaid’s finances, deciding eligibility standards, benefit packages, provider reimbursement rates, and so forth. In this way the “laboratories of democracy” would be freed to solve problems and provide solutions that—as they prove effective—will be adopted by other states.

Human rights
We must also reject the isolationism and xenophobia that currently tinge the Republican Party. We are living in an increasingly connected world, and our vision must not just be for the struggling at home, but also affirm the role that the United States has played as a champion for freedom and an advocate for the downtrodden worldwide.

This legacy—much of it initiated by conservatives—includes application of American might to confront human trafficking, protect human rights, and promote religious liberty worldwide.

Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut by more than half in the developing world, from 43 percent to 21 percent. About two-thirds of that improvement comes from economic growth, and conservatives must articulate how free markets are the greatest single anti-poverty engine. Meanwhile, we can also champion innovative public-private-nonprofit partnerships that lift those whom markets leave behind, including orphans.

One such example is the remarkable success of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which is a conservative legacy as well. In designing PEPFAR as he did, President George W. Bush confronted a global health crisis with a new paradigm that centered on locally based solutions, personal responsibility, and measurable results. This approach has helped dramatically reduce the rate of AIDS in Africa and beyond.

Reprinted with permission. © 2013 The Clapham Group LLC. All rights reserved.

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