Last week, former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal appeared in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages to offer a defense of school choice on moral grounds.
Jindal begins by discussing the benefits that parents immediately recognize, such as better discipline and an emphasis on traditional or religious values.
He then moves to arguments a policy analyst might make, citing statistics on graduation and retention rates along with better test scores. The analyst approach typically views the competition introduced by school choice as creating the right incentives for public school improvement.
Rounding out his list of school choice proponents and reasoning are fiscal conservatives, whose primary concern may rightly be a more efficient use of tax dollars.
But for Jindal, the most compelling and fundamental reason to favor school choice is simple: it empowers parents to choose the environment best tailored to a student’s styles, preferences, and aptitude.
Jindal identifies two distinct approaches to education and reform. The first are the “chamber of commerce” types receptive to top-down administration, mostly concerned with economic growth and a skilled base of workers. These types may support standardized performance measures, while remaining flexible on teacher credentials and tenure. They may be quick to dispense with school choice reforms that don’t produce immediate results.
Alternatively, conservatives tend to seek bottom-up solutions. More concerned with educating the citizens of a self-governing republic, these individuals, typically parents, are less interested with economic growth.
As Jindal aptly points out, “choice is the ultimate form of accountability, and letting parents pick their children’s schools is valuable in itself, irrespective of outcomes.” He then warns of regulators’ inherent desires to bring charters, private, and parochial schools under the umbrella of state and federal bureaucracy.
“Why does the state respect that some parents are capable of choosing what is best for their children, while acting as though other parents aren’t,” he asks. To school choice advocates everywhere, parents are the ones in the best position to know what education is right for their children, much the same way government defers in areas like children’s health, diets, and religion.
As school choice options inevitably expand, entrenched bureaucrats and chambers of commerce-types will resist change until they can no longer stem the tide. In the end, their efforts to exact monopolistic control and regulate school choice out of existence will be like grasping at water, as a wave of empowered parents sweeps forth to take back their childrens’ futures.