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Florida Libertarians: Voucher Decision "New Jim Crow"

January 20th 2006

Florida Libertarians: Voucher Decision "New Jim Crow"

Michael Gilson-De Lemos

St Petersburg, Fl--Some Florida Libertarians and concerned parents involved in education characterized a Florida Supreme Court ruling against vouchers as "institutionalizing ignorance" and "bizarre, unrealistic, and a new form of Jim Crow to keep the poor out of private schools."
So said attendees and e-participants for a workshop for parents concerned about the decision hosted by Libertarians. Michael Gilson-De Lemos, who serves on a local schooling board in Pinellas county and is a frequent speaker to schools and educators on Libertarian alternatives, hosted the forum.
The Florida court ruled against the Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who led a coalition that brought about what observers felt was one of the most successful voucher plans in the US.
The vouchers, while not advocated per se by the Libertarians, were informally supported by them as a form of tax relief and return of control and choice to the parents. Libertarians had worked in many Florida communities to explain the voucher program, and make parents aware of other alternatives such as charter, magnet, and low-cost or free private schooling.
Libertarians, said Mr. Gilson,  "Show people how all government schools should be made 'truly free and public' by being made non-compulsory, making boards more local and run by parents and students, and supported voluntarily through community trusts. They also point to the value of private schooling, and are generally acknowledged as having led the revival of home-schooling in the US."
The ruling seemed "In a growing number of parent's eyes who have looked into the different alternatives as really rooted in myths from the 1930's and to ignore the economic knowledge and experience with the options available available now to the average Florida parent," said Mr. Gilson in an interview. "People felt that the court ruling said bizarre, unrealistic things, such as suggesting that somehow the private schools were competing unfairly because the parents got some of their tax money back. In fact, one can argue that it's government monopoly schools that compete unfairly, since they tax their competition and their competition's potential customers to support themselves in the first place. It completely reverses the Constitution. Suddenly it's not public education or even legitimate education unless it's government education."
In addition, "Government school costs reflect this monopoly position. Many private schools cost less than half what goes to the government schools, and home-schooling costs as little as 1% of their cost," he said.
"In fact, Florida government schools have begun a form of internet home-schooling that, unsurprisingly, is riddled with red tape and costs far more. The parent knows more than the Court. Given a chance, he or she votes with his feet. Unfortunately, this will also hit inner city and poor parents hardest, who were major users of the vouchers."
In recent years, government schools have come under unrelenting attack by Libertarians, who have documented growing trends of student abuse, spiraling costs, and effective voluntary alternatives. In so doing they've united an array of conservatives, leftist critics, innovative educators, and parents wanting measurable results for less money into a nationwide cultural force. Libertarian ideas such as charter schools, home-schooling, and student driven education have been widely adopted, reversing a trend of government school monopoly. Libertarians are at pains to point out that they support non-denominational public schools open to all, but that these should not be compulsory or tax based, and would benefit from more direct role for parents and students. Florida is considered especially friendly to educational experimentation by parents, in large part, say observers,  due to the activism of Libertarians who have beat back attempts to limit parental experiments such as school co-operatives.
Mr. Gilson, in a talk to over 100 Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, Florida parents, educators and students who met to discuss the ruling, also pointed to paradigm-busting models such as Sudbury schools, which are low cost and actually run by the students, who set their own  class sizes, hire teachers, and set their own curricula with direct parent involvement. "Governor Bush thought a little freedom might be a good thing, and after a painstaking consultative process was attempting to introduce a little realism by having the schools educate on education itself, by offering real choices and understandable information working people can use. This not only helped the private schools but improved the government ones by helping parents drag them into the 21st century. The Supreme Court has not voted against vouchers, but for self-institutionalized ignorance, de-educating people on the choices they could have."

Mr. Gilson says the ruling has, perversely, been a publicity bonanza for Libertarians speaking on education alternatives to parents, student groups, and schools. "Speaking invitations have shot up. People want competition or choice. They want information on alternatives. They don't believe education means keeping people in the dark with their tax money. If the Supreme Court chooses to censor information on parental choice, the public chooses to come to us. Choice will out. "
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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:48 PM