Libertarian N.C. gubernatorial candidate Barbara Howe believes the education of our children is far too important to be left in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. That’s why she proposes a different, de-centralized approach to education that would give parents control over how and where their children go to school.
“While I want to assume that most of the elected officials in Raleigh have children’s best interest at heart, a centralized education system cannot possibly meet the diverse needs of the children in North Carolina,” she said.
Howe believes North Carolina and the nation can and should lead the world in education.
“A proven model is all around us,” she explained. “The material abundance provided by America’s free market is the envy of the world. We should expand it to include the most important service of education.”
“I have a vision for education,” Howe said. “I see each county in North Carolina having scores, maybe hundreds, of new small businesses – each striving to win customers by providing the value those customers want: a quality, comprehensive education.”
Howe envisions something like a “Consumer Reports for education,” where parents can research and debate various options for the children’s education. She believes this would encourage see innovative newcomers to enter the market trying to win customers with ideas and enthusiasm.
Howe said there’s no reason, outside of the government’s need for control, for schools to have 1,000, 2,000, or even 3,000 students.
“The market near my home provides me with the choice of 36 kinds of vinegar. I know. I took time to count them,” Howe observes. That same kind of variety can be possible in education.
“My vision is schools in storefronts, schools in churches, schools in office spaces, and all are financed by the same sort of folks who now build our bakeries, dairies, auto repair shops, and churches,” she said.
This variety would allow schools to tailor the structure, curriculum and rules to meet the needs of parents. There would be schools that required uniforms, all-girl, all-boy, or co-educational schools, schools that focused on math and science, or music, or any other subject.
“In short, there will be every kind and variety of education that the market will bear.” Howe said.
Parents would also be able to select a school for child that fit their values. The question of whose values should be taught at a school would be up to the parents, not teachers, school administrators or politicians.
“With parents making the choices, the values taught in schools can be almost as good as those taught at home,” Howe said.
To bring about this fundamental change in the state’s education system, Howe proposes a Taxpayer Choice Scholarship Program. This would essential be a tax credit which would allow each taxpayer to direct up to $3,000 of the tax liability to education. They could direct the money to an individual student, to a school, or to a non-profit agency that provides scholarships.
Unlike vouchers, which Howe notes receives most of the “choice school” press, the individual taxpayer and not politicians or bureaucrats would decide where the money went.
Howe believes her plan is better because it empowers people to make their own decisions, allows taxpayers to control where their money is spent, and strengthens parental involvement in education, one of the strongest indicators of educational success.
“The public schools will benefit too,” Howe asserts, because competition benefits everybody. “The pressure of a possible shrinking domain will cause public employees, almost as much as those in the private sector, to strive harder, experiment more, and reward excellence.”
“The great thing about competition is that it’s not so much a plan as an environment that fosters and rewards innovation, enthusiasm, and energy,” Howe explained. “Competition is not ‘an improvement,’ it’s a process of continuing improvement. Thus there is no limit to how good our schools can become.”