Below is an edited version of my brief remarks at a recent breakfast meeting of conservative activists.
Governor Christie at his State of the State address talked about “Big Ideas.” In the few minutes I have, I would like to talk about one “Big Idea,” the restructuring of “public education.” But before I do so, I would like to ask you four questions.
1. Is socialism a good idea? Audience answered NO.
2. Is public education a good idea? Most in the audience answered Yes.
3. Are parents responsible for raising their children? Audience answered YES.
4. Should all adults strive to be financially independent? Audience answered YES
(Many conservatives have a blind spot when it comes to government—taxpayer—funded education.)
If you believe government should provide education to all youngsters, then you have lost the argument against the proponents of socialism. If you support taxpayer funded education, why then shouldn’t the government provide health care, transportation, housing, energy, banking, food, etc? In fact, government has been heavily involved in virtually every aspect of our economy and our lives. In short, America is heavily “socialized.”
We have a $14 trillion national debt, a $1.5 trillion budget deficit, a $100 trillion unfunded liability in Social Security and Medicare, a humongous number of regulations, and monetary socialism that has driven down the value of the dollar and increased the cost of living, which primarily hurts low and middle-income families. This is not because of limited government policies.
On the contrary, the dismal financial situation of the federal government and virtually all state governments is a result of spending, borrowing and the FED’s printing of money, not fiscal restraint and sound money.
In other words, government at all levels is interfering with the freedom of the American people to live their lives. And by promising the people more and more “goodies” without asking the people to pay for them, our financial picture is bleak and getting bleaker.
Government education is a microcosm of our society. Government education suffers from RICE—redistribution of income (in New Jersey from the suburbs to the cities), inflationism (the depreciation of the dollar raises prices, in this case the cost of government education), collectivism (government “owns” the schools and all the negative consequences that causes) and egalitarianism (all children no matter the ability of their parents to pay should have the same amount of school aid directed their way).
If you are unhappy with the state of the union or the state of the state, you must support the downsizing of the federal government and state and local government. In New Jersey that would mean at minimum abolishing the income tax.
Our theory of “public finance” is based on the idea that government provides “services” for all the people and levies taxes to pay for them. National defense would be a good example, even though several presidents have used the military for preemptive war and other interventionist policies. Another example of a tax that pays for a government service that is considered reasonable is the “gas tax.”
Nevertheless, one of the worst ideas in public finance is to create a new tax in order to lower a current tax. That was the idea behind the income tax. Trenton collects the income tax and distributes the funds to school districts in order to lower or hold the line on property taxes. Currently, suburban school districts get very little back in terms of state aid and some districts actually get zero dollars back from Trenton. Fiscal conservatives should support the abolition of the income tax.
If I were a mayor or president of a local school board of a town that received no state aid this year, I would sue Governor Christie and the Legislature for violating the state constitution for not providing any state aid to my school district. The income tax has been a Trojan horse, plain and simple.
Conservatives are now excited because the Opportunity Scholarships Act passed its first hurdle by being approved in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The way the bill is currently written, I would oppose it because it is not a “clean” school choice bill. The bill should eliminate the “voucher” provision and just have a tax credit for businesses that provide the maximum amount to fund a scholarship to low income students.
But more importantly, government education is like war. War, it is said, is too important to be left to generals. For the same reason, education is too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats. That is the real issue.
In addition, why do conservatives want to perpetuate an institution where in general teachers promote big government ideas? It makes no sense to continue taxpayer funding the promotion of collectivist ideology. Public schools are graduating little Barack Obamas and Hilary Clintons.
The solution is clear: the separation of school and state for the very same reason we have separation of church and state—to allow diversity of religions to flourish and to protect the individual’s freedom of conscience.
Free enterprise has created the greatest amount of wealth in the shortest period in the history of the world. It has lifted more people out of poverty than any “anti-poverty” program devised by government. Yet, free enterprise is vilified for what it supposedly causes—growing income inequality, inflation, social unrest, financial bubbles, etc.
We need a diverse education sector. We need real school choice. That is why all freedom-loving individuals should support the separation of school and state.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College of New Jersey and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com.