Monday, November 24, 2008

Conservative Solution to Poverty

By Phil Fraietta

Throughout my lifetime, I have often times found that those of the left and even in the center tend to take the position that conservatives are not interested in helping the poor. While I still believe this a complete falsity, I must say that over the past decade it has become clear to me why many people feel this way. We, as right-wingers, need to stop using the populist rhetoric of “job creation,” and instead need to offer clear but conservative solutions to poverty. Conservative reforms to education would certainly be a good place to start. One such reform that I believe should become a staple of the conservative movement is school choice.

School choice may in fact be the Civil Rights issue of our day. The late great economist Milton Friedman first proposed the idea in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the “conservative” No Child Left Behind Act failed to include school choice because the far-left, in particular Senator Ted Kennedy, fought against it.

The idea of school choice is simple in principle but genius in application. School choice simply refers to allowing parents to use tax vouchers in order to opt out of sending their children to public school and instead sending them to a private school of their choice. Right now, the tax system forces parents who choose to use private schools for their children, to still pay public school taxes. In my opinion, this is simply wrong. Why should one pay for a service they do not use? Why not allow one to use that same tax money to send their child to a private school?

School choice would not only better the public schooling system by forcing it into even stiffer competition with the private school system, it would serve as a pathway to the American Dream for many impoverished Americans. Take conditions such as those on Fordham Road right outside this campus for example. A family living in conditions like these is forced to send their children to run-down public schools with poor quality teachers and almost no path to advancement. Under school choice, this same family would be able to use a tax voucher and send their child to Fordham Prep. Clearly a student at Fordham Prep has a greater chance to succeed than a student using the Bronx Public School system. Not coincidentally, 73% of Hispanic Americans and 82% of African-Americans (both of which suffer higher poverty rates) support school choice according to the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance.

In fact, most people of all demographics support school choice (63% according to The Center for Education Reform) and see it as a great way to help the poor. So then why is it that school choice has still not be installed? The far-left opposes it.

They argue that school choice is unconstitutional in that it violates “separation of church and state” by sending tax dollars to religious schools. But those of us who are actually familiar with the Constitution know that “separation of church and state” does not appear and that all the Constitution does is prohibit the State from establishing a national religion. The far-left is also under extreme pressure from the teacher’s union to oppose school choice. Clearly, if public schools were forced into stiff competition with private schools, sub-par teachers would have a difficult time keeping their jobs. But, I for one, would rather see our children being educated by the best teachers we have to offer, rather than making sure sub-par teachers still have work.

School choice is an issue we as conservatives can all support. It is vital for us to push for school choice as the number one means to help the poor. The American Dream is beautiful, but the government monopoly over education has started to break it. School choice is a conservative way to reform education and make the American Dream attainable for everyone once again.


DSKohn said...

An insightful article, unfortunately this kind of school reform has only been practiced on a very small scale in New York City under Bloomberg and in small towns in Texas. As a result, graduation rates in NYC districts are at an all time high. Maybe the rest of the country can learn from the example.

brett.vetterlein said...

I'm a little bit confused as to how taking away money from already horribly funded public schools will make them more competitive. Your plan is to force the people with the least money to pay more taxes, while those with the most to pay less?

In your hypothetical situation, you say that in your system people would just get tax vouchers for sending their kids to a school like Fordham Prep. Who would qualify for these vouchers? These people would still have to pay tuition to go to Fordham Prep, no doubt, which must be out of their price range. Instead of just recognizing the inequalities in the education of poor communities and side stepping it, why not confront it. Give adequate funding to these public schools so there is no need for private school rivals.

As for the case of religion, well my friend you could NOT be more wrong. I don't know what US Constitution you are reading, but it clearly states that Congress shall not make any law "respecting an establishment of religion." Seems to me that it is in pretty plain English. What that means to me is that America is not to be a Christian nation, and therefore we shouldn't give tax dollars to any religious institution. By giving American tax dollars to a religious institution is, as it appears to me, to be respecting an establishment of religion. On the general topic of separation of church and state, most of the founding fathers were deists, which today would be more like atheists, as can be seen by their writing. Not to mention an often overlooked document called the "Treaty of Tripoli" of 1796, whose 11th article clearly states that America is not "founded on the Christian religion." This treaty was approved unanimously by the Senate and signed by John Adams, then president.

My last problem with this article, this entire publication (and conservatives for that matter) is that you insist on referring to anyone more left than center-right as "far left." As an actual leftist, who prides himself on not being a "liberal", I find it appalling that college students who make a feeble attempt at "journalism" have such a skewed and slanted view of the political spectrum. I resent that your idea of far-left is Obama or Ted Kennedy, and god forbid someone mentions some legitimate socialist, communist, or anarchist. If your definition of socialism relies on references to FDR and Obama's tax policy then your heads might just explode at how far left leftism actually goes.

CharlesH said...

The tuition for Fordham Prep is $14,625, which makes sending a single kid through High School a $58,500 task. For families with incomes half that or less, which would include many Bronx residents, you're simply making the problem worse by taking money away from underfunded schools and potentially heightening the tax burden on those who already an hardly afford it.

In hind sight, it must be said that the No Child Left Behind act was a failed policy on every level, not only in regards to vouchers, and blame for the act has to be spread equally to both sides of the aisle. The difficulty with dealing with education with an increasingly tough stance to foster "competition" at school, is that it has proven, statistically to only further worsen a great national problem. Citing statistics on popular opinion does very little to inform that much valued pragmatism that your so-called "conservatives" so rightly desire.