Making your child’s choices

Dateline 28 March 2007

What should your child have for breakfast this morning? Why not phone Eliot Spitzer and ask him? After all, Eliot knows your child better than you do, right? Eliot knows your child’s tastes and nutritional needs. Eliot knows all about your child’s allergies.

Or maybe, just maybe, Eliot doesn’t. Maybe Eliot doesn’t know your child at all, and cannot make complex judgements about every individual child in the state.

Which is why it is odd that he thinks the way to improve education in the state is to centralize powers in Albany. He plans to increase spending on schools by 40% over the next few years, with next year’s funds growing three times faster than inflation. But to get the money schools have to meet the standards he lays down for them. Eliot knows best.

And what is the betting that if schools miss the governor’s standards, then the standards will be fudged and schools will get the money anyway. It wouldn’t be fair to the children otherwise.

But there is another way. What if, instead of giving money to schools, the state gave money to families? What if the money went to the schools that parents chose? A simple grant of so much money per pupil.

It wouldn’t suit Eliot, but it just might suit you and it just might suit your children.

Some parents might make bad choices. Just like some people make bad choices about the jobs they take, the cars they buy and the people they marry. The consequences of those bad choices could be severe. So Eliot steps in. But some governors might make bad choices too. The question is not ‘would school choice lead to a perfect system?’. The question is would it make it better.

The question is not whether parents might sometimes make mistakes. It is ‘are parents more or less likely to make mistakes than governors?’ And which mistakes have the more serious consequences?

And the thing is, when it comes to judgements about your children, you are less likely to make mistakes than Eliot Spitzer is. You know and love your children rather better than he does. And, if you do make mistakes, the consequences might be serious for your children. But if he makes mistakes the consequences will be serious for every child in New York State.

Eliot Spitzer talks a good game about being tough, about being a sheriff, but when it comes to the big issues he is a cream puff and a coward. Education is the biggest issue a governor faces. He is willing to spend money – that’s easy for a Democrat. But is he willing to take on special interests? He talks about fighting special interests. But when he says that, he means he is willing to victimize businesses. He won’t take on the special interests that give money to the Democrats. He won’t take on the teachers’ unions. Some special interests, you see, are special.

So, sorry, you don’t get to make choices for your children. The governor makes those choices. And the outcome of those choices has been bought and paid for. That’s the order of precedence when it comes to mapping your child’s life: first the NEA, then the governor, then you.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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