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Education reform, federalism and religious liberty

By Scott Tibbs, October 3, 2012

NBC News is pushing their "education nation" project again, and they got both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to offer their views on the subject. This demonstrates part of the problem with the debate over education, that it is taking place at all at the federal level. The federal government has no business being involved in education, which is best managed by communities and families at the local level with guidance from the state.

More importantly, the federal government has no Constitutional authority to be involved in education and the Tenth Amendment reserves that power to the states. Before we even get into specific policies, we need to have those policies decided at the appropriate place.

As to specific policies, I have said before that I am opposed to vouchers. They are an invitation to meddling by politicians and are therefore a threat to religious liberty. However, I support allowing parents to choose among local government schools as it would offer some of the benefits of vouchers - primarily making schools better through competition - without tying private schools to government.

Charter schools are a different story. Some children and teens may not fit in a traditional educational environment, and charters provide room for innovation. State government is right to promote them and the use of charter schools should be expanded. Furthermore, more charter schools are an incentive to existing government schools to get better through competition, just as government school choice would.

In addition to competition, there is something else that is badly needed. If we want the government schools to be successful, there will need to be better discipline. We need to stop punishing innocent by coddling the guilty. If a "student" is disruptive to the educational environment, it is morally depraved to allow him to deny other students the education they deserve by disrupting class and harassing or bullying classmates. Just as with prison, we need to develop the attitude that if you willingly give up your right to get an education, you can be removed from the schools.

Ultimately, this is up to the parents. A dear friend's daughters are home schooled, and they could recite the Presidents from Washington to Obama, in order, when they were five and eight years old. Their knowledge has only expanded since then, to the point that they are ahead of their government school counterparts by a wide margin. They are where they are in their education because their parents have made a commitment to that education,.

The problem our government schools face is that if the child does not care and his parents do not care, there is not very much the school can do about it. We can blame the schools all we want, but I am confident that most students can get a quality education in most government schools. But until we can get adults to understand the importance of a good education, all of our efforts will be in vain.