“Nationalized Education”: The Next Battlefield?

If the government’s push to nationalize health care is successful, Congress and the administration will soon turn to one of their other stated priorities: education.

by Michael Naragon

Although–or, perhaps, because–liberalism has dominated public education since the 1960s, test results and competency in general continue to decline, much to the stated chagrin of officials in the school system and local, state, and federal governments.  Barack Obama has made reforming the education system in America one of his highest priorities.

“[Education reform] will require a willingness to break free from the same debates that Washington has been engaged in for decades – Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more accountability,” Obama has said.  “And most of all, it will take a president who is honest about the challenges we face – who doesn’t just tell everyone what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.”

For sake of argument, what if the administration approached education in the same way they have approached health care?

The president has used very dire rhetoric in describing the health care “crisis,” even going so far as to claim that health care expenses are the primary cause of the current economic catastrophe/recession/depression/slowdown.  To solve this problem, the government would, if the bill is passed, introduce “competition” to the marketplace.  Private health insurance companies would have much stricter regulation, and any private insurance benefits given by employers would be eligible to be taxed as income.  The government’s plan, therefore, would become increasingly attractive.

It is easy to picture the president making the same arguments about education.  Indeed, on the president’s web site, he has already made similar statements.

“At this defining moment in our history, preparing our children to compete in the global economy is one of the most urgent challenges we face,” reads Obama’s statement on education.  “We need to stop paying lip service to public education, and start holding communities, administrators, teachers, parents and students accountable. We will prepare the next generation for success in college and the workforce, ensuring that American children lead the world once again in creativity and achievement.”  Throw in the word “crisis” or “catastrophe” somewhere, and it begins to sound very much like the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care debates.

How might the administration go about meeting such challenges?  By “telling [Americans] what they need to hear,” Obama could propose a federal takeover of state school systems.  Many states, like California, are already running far into the red, and education costs more than nearly every other social program provided by the state.  In some Southern states, the cost of busing alone makes up more than half of all educational expense.  A federal offer to take up such expense, or to more completely assist with such expense, would be attractive to many of the states.  States that refused to comply could be threatened with sanctions or withholding of other federal benefits.

Such action would then put the nation’s public school systems more completely under federal control.  The government’s focus would then be to eliminate the competition.  Homeschooling would be effectively curtailed by requiring homeschooling parents to possess a teaching license, master’s degree in education, or both.  A few families would commit to jumping through the hoops, but, as any educator knows, state certification boards can be very friendly or very obstructive places.  Homeschooling parents would undoubtedly encounter the latter.

Private schools would then be the target.  The government could attack them in the same way they will attack private insurance: by forcing them to provide all services provided by public schools, and to do so without raising tuition to compensate.  Private schools could be forced to take in any student, regardless of behavioral background, ability, transcript, learning disability, or physical challenge.  Washington would not be so crass as to issue an edict closing the doors of every private school (except, of course, for the ones attended by children of government officials).  They would, in the name of “competition,” ensure that most private schools could not compete.

Government schools, with their taxpayer-supplied budgets, purchase new textbooks every year, in most cases.  Private schools, particularly religious-based schools, rarely do this in order to save money, opting instead to purchase new books every few years.  Those schools could now be forced to purchase new books at the same frequency as the public schools without raising tuition.

Many employees of private schools work there in order to obtain a discount for their children to attend that school.  The Internal Revenue Service could easily begin to look at the tuition discount as taxable income, in much the same way that insurance benefits will be counted as taxable income to help pay for the president’s health care plan.  The difference in taxable income would be enough to force many employees–and their students–from the private schools and into the government network, thereby strengthening the budgets of the public schools.

Obama’s commitment has been squarely behind the public schools and the teachers’ unions that populate them.  “We need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support,” he has said. “In the end, vouchers would reduce the options available to children in need. I fear these children would truly be left behind in a private market system.”  He has failed to explain what was served by his comrades in Congress allowing the voucher system in the District of Columbia to expire, effectively removing low-income students from the private school attended by the Obama children, even though the low-income students had the ability and desire–but not the income–to attend that school.

In the end, this is, of course, an exercise in speculation, but the parallels exist.  One of the greatest battlefields for the hearts and minds of America has taken place in the schools, and it has been overwhelmingly won by the liberal establishment thus far.  By nationalizing education and removing the last bastions of free thought and achievement from the system, the battle will have been effectively ended.

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