“There is no respect in which inhabitants of low-income neighborhoods are so disadvantaged as in the kind of schooling they can get for their children.” (Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman)
Milton Friedman heralded freedom — that free choices and free markets unfettered by government restrictions produce the happiest, healthiest, wealthiest peoples throughout world history. Friedman’s free-choice belief was most adamant in the education marketplace — where government-run monopoly public schools often consign poverty families to multi-generational bondage to local failing education institutions. Alaska is fraught with examples from inner city to remote native regions.
Americans have long understood that free market competition produces a better product at a lower price than government monopolies. The collapse of the command-and-control Soviet economy was proof positive. Yet, for unknown reasons, we ignore this principle when considering the most important product — our children’s education. This despite the fact that many studies show that both public and private schools perform better when they are competing against each other on a level playing field. Twenty-six such studies are cited online at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
And other studies focus on the tax dollar savings resulting when school competition produces cost efficiencies — one study revealing $444 million in tax dollar savings attributable to various school choice programs.
Alaska parents and school choice advocates want parent consumer empowerment with a school funding system where education dollars follow the student to the private or public school of the parents’ choice — via scholarships, grants, or even tax credits. This gives parents flexibility to put their child in the private or public school best suited to their child’s needs, and gives them “customer clout” to demand higher performance from their local public schools. The research proves this.
Rather than debating the conclusive research and economic logic supporting school choice, government unions and educratic interests prefer hiding behind the Alaska Constitution’s Blaine Amendment — “No … public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Yet, as a violation of the federal Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Blaine Amendment unconstitutional in Mitchell v. Helms (June 28, 2000) “…This doctrine [the Blaine Amendment], born of bigotry, should be buried now.”
In 2007, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reiterated that state Blaine Amendments are rooted in shameful religious bigotry. “… Blaine Amendments reek of religious discrimination. As such, they are illegitimate relics of a shameful past we have neither adequately acknowledged nor effectively remedied.”
And consider the false narrative that the Blaine Amendment’s anti-religious prohibitions are wise or prudent. Seventy years of American history prove repeatedly that religiously neutral student support is effective and efficient. The GI Bill aids veterans to attend religious (or non-religious) schools of their choice, with amazing positive results. Child Care and Development Block Grants provided government aid irrespective of the religious or non-religious affiliation of childcare institutions, with similar positive results. And both federal and state Child Care Tax Credits subsidize parental choice of child care providers with direct credits offsetting expenses — regardless of the providers’ religious affiliations.
These are three examples of numerous government aid programs which succeeded despite clear diametric conflict with state Blaine Amendments.
The $64,000 question: If a religiously neutral, competitive level playing field is good for college programs, preschool programs, after-school programs, and summertime programs; why isn’t this also good for K-12 regular school programs? Here’s why — none of these other programs have powerful government unions lobbying against them, opposing any attempts to reform the monopolistic system. That’s the only difference. Alaska politicians need to recognize this fact and choose sides rather than feigning “constitutionality” crisis issues.
And government union lobbyists need to start debating school choice on the merits of competition. Try refuting the many studies which reveal improved public school performance in school choice marketplaces, rather than clinging to the shameful anti-religious bigotry known as the Blaine Amendment.
Legislators should grant Alaska voters their right to vote on this reeking relic long past its time. If voters do the right thing and toss it from their constitution, they will have cleared the first hurdle en route to educational freedom, real school competition and better schools.
Joe Balyeat (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the state director for school choice projects for Americans For Prosperity — Alaska. He is a National Merit Scholar and former Montana state senator who lives part year at his home in Anchor Point.