Acton Institute Powerblog

National Ed Care

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As the fall school term approaches there were a lot of announcements this past week relating to education — both K-12 and college — including the annual publication of U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges, a Wall Street Journal story about the SAT score results, ACTA’s College Report Card and ISI’s latest edition of “Choosing the Right College.” Then The Los Angeles Unified School District [LAUSD] decided to off load over 200 schools bought and paid for with tax dollars to applicants to operate as Charters. This is most disturbing although many will be shouting hooray.

Let’s recap the situation.

Nationwide, the public K-12 schools will continue to fail miserably despite an increased budget in 2009-10 that will include Obama stimulus money and total over $667 Billion spread over 50 million students — $13,000 plus per child. At colleges, freshmen with GPA’s of 4.7 and a slew of AP courses on their high school transcript will be guided to remedial writing labs so they can get up to speed and write a coherent essay by mid term. Many will not get better at it.

At the same time this is happening we as a nation are having town hall meetings and shouting matches with arrogant politicians and their minions over our distrust with the thought of having government run the health care delivery industry in this country.

Do you sense the disconnect? Why does the idea of public instruction or as my title suggests National Ed Care not bring about the same questioning and emotion and distrust inspired by the prospect of public health management? With education we have years of failure in the U.S. to use as evidence to argue for another path. A path devoid of public finance. But we’re not going there. Why?

Some things need to be laid on the table.

One: The Federal Department of Education and state departments of education are tools of statists. I defer here to Proverbs 22. You know the passages about “the parent is the primary educator of the child.” The educating of a child is a very personal thing. And despite many parent’s lack of confidence it’s something they have traditionally done and can do. Don’t believe me? Read some of the letters sent home during the Civil War and WWI by primarily home educated soldiers. Their expressions of wit, solemnity and grace are far more eloguent than the stuff that lands today’s college freshmen in that writing lab described above. Have doubts? read your kid’s emails. With its continued reach into our education, the government is increasingly pushing to mold curriculum in a fashion that ignores tradition, reason and faith.

Two: The benefit of an educated public is an informed electorate. That’s what Thomas Jefferson believed and it remains an absolute necessity for sustaining a free people. Sadly, our knowledge of American History and Civics is lacking. We left it to the public schools and they have predictably dropped the ball. Don’t believe me? What about earlier this year when Congress almost unanimously voted to tax after the fact employees of a private company who had been paid bonus money. That’s called an “ex post facto” law and is forbid by the U.S. Constitution [Article I, Section 10], the law those legislators swore to support and defend. But the question of doing something explicitly against the law since the country’s founding didn’t raise a stir among the public. Very likely because they never learned about it in their public schools.

Three: Not all students should be pushed toward college. The ease with which credit became available to finance college costs increased the “opportunity” and cost for students who in other times might have chosen a trade or career path that didn’t require four years of college. Now, everyone is considered eligible for that trophy. Most High Schools no longer offer non-college prep tracts so many kids are either overwhelmed or drop out instead of being guided into skills and job training that would fill the nation’s need for tasks which go wanting these days. Stuff like plumbers, electricians, food service, office staffing. I don’t know what it’s like in your neighborhood but in mine a plumber with a good attitude and some cheap cologne can make a valuable contribution and more money than many college graduates.

Charter Schools are public schools under different management. That’s likely to make some of my friends in this debate unhappy but it’s true and I have to tell you that if the LAUSD charter plan goes through, you will see a rush by progressive, leftist activists groups in the Los Angeles area to file applications and start charter schools of their own design, to push their own agenda. The review of charter curriculums after initial approval will not take place for three or more years and since it will be done by the same bureaucrats who have dropped the ball for the past 50 years, we cannot count on the public’s money being put to use in a way that satisfies my point “Two” above: to educate an informed public. Don’t kid yourselves, the charter will not look for operating savings, they’ll use up the $13,000. per child the state’s accustomed to spending. That’s what is happening now.

Anecdotal proof of a need for concern is the furor that took place in 2008 in the San Francisco Bay area of California when elementary school children were taken to the same sex union of their lesbian teacher without parental notification. The teacher thought it would be an enriching experience. The school was a charter.

“But we can’t home school our kids,” cries a mother. “I’ve got to work. We both have to. We don’t have a choice.”

The alternative to chartering is a voucher. Parochial K-8 schools like those run by the Catholic Church and other denominations charge an average of $5,000 for annual tuition in many areas of the U.S.. The number is significantly less than the state spends and the results are superior and the surroundings more in line with a family’s beliefs. As a parent a voucher would allow you to be free to choose.

In my novel about a family’s decision to home school, the mother cries out in doubt, “What if I screw up. What if he can’t get into college.” She is persuaded by an older neighbor and former professor that there will be “lots of help.” And there is. But it’s help that is there to guide them to the truth; not what the state whispers in our ears — a persuasion that there can be a heaven on earth.

National Health Care is a bad idea. State run education has been a failure. Both need to be rejected.

Ken Larson Ken Larson is a businessman and writer who with his wife recently moved from their native state California to a semi-rural part of Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay. A graduate of California State University with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first "reloading manual" for Sierra Bullets [something that earns him major league credibility when picking crabs with new friends on Sunday afternoons] and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, A Schoolboy's Adventure. His web site is For ten years, Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired their inaugural Catholic Conference on Business and Ethics in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He continues to be active in his new community and mindful of America's civic education malaise.


  • JohnE

    To restrict funding to schools that do not teach religious values is religious discrimination. Why must schools submit to government control in order to receive funding when it can be shown that private and home-school education serves the common good better and at less cost to the taxpayer? With the removal of prayer and the inclusion of “science-based sex education”, that is, education devoid of any moral framework, I fear many are not so much interested in ensuring that the common good is being economically served, but in using the public schools as vehicles to shape the views and ideology of the next generation. Why so many seem to just go along with it puzzles me.

  • Even if society were to switch to a voucher system today, I doubt that much improvement would be seen for the next decade. Thomas Sowell often points out that teachers typically score the lowest on college entrance exams and many fail credential exams on their first try. That is not to say that there are not great instructors in our public schools, only that the current funding system and unionization tend to attract and preserve the lesser qualified. If pay were a determinant of performance, thousands of retired nuns would be millionaires.

    I own an operate a retail business in which we see families often. The brightest and best behaved children are home-schooled, then the private schooled and least well behaved are the public school attendees. There are exceptions, of course, and that is where parenting plays a significant role.

    The US has a history of anti-Catholicism cloaked under the term “sectarian.” This fear of Catholicism has distorted American life so much that few can conceive a free enterprise, non-governmental, non-monopoly school system.

  • Chris

    Thank you for this article. Hopefully with more articles like this the healtcare protest crowds will begin to encompass the education debacle and other things the government has monopolized to the point of failure.

    I too am distrustful of the public education system, despite graduating from it 3 decades ago. I believe it was much different back then, just a few years into both full racial integration and co-ed classes, I was so proud of my school and its (and our) accomplishments. Excellence was still the ultimate goal, and 99% of the students rose to the challenge whether successful or not. I am so thankful that I passed through that system before it became the drivel it is today.

    Today we’re more concerned with “leveling” the playing field so the less-apt can achieve and develop their self-esteem at the greatest costs to those who need the bar to be much higher to give a damn about trying. It seems public schools are more concerned about student’s feelings than their accomplishments.

    Anyway, what I originally came here to say doesn’t need to be said because you covered it very well indeed. There is a very passionate anti-public school sentiment that is gradually coming to a head, and this healthcare/distrust of government backlash may very well bring the government’s other failures, especially education, into focus.

  • Roger McKinney

    I agree with every point in the article, except the implication that our present healthcare system is not state controlled. We are not talking about the option of a free market healthcare system vs a state controlled one. We are discussing the status quo state-run healthcare system vs a more rational state-run healthcare system.

    The state already restricts the supply of healthcare and controls most of the demand through Medicare and Medicaid. With restriced supply and unlimited demand, what can you expect but rapidly rising prices? In order to rationalize the current system, we need to move on to wage and price controls.

    Free markets in healthcare are not even being discussed. They’re not on the table. The only debate that exists is whether to keep the current state-controlled but irrational system or go for more state-control with some amount of logic to it.

  • Roger: You write “The only debate that exists is whether to keep the current state-controlled but irrational [health care] system or go for more state-control with some amount of logic to it.”

    That’s just not true unless you want to quibble about what a debate is. There are a number of proposed bills that have been offered with hopes of discussion on issues of equitable tax treatment of the healthcare benefit in the pay package, tort reform, state-state insurance barriers to name a few. These are areas where regulation has already tweaked the enterprise and Conservative thinkers are trying to un-tweak it.

    Your thought that wage and price controls would “rationalize the current system” flies in the face of all experience but if you have an example to point to please do.

    Actually, there are far more complications backing away from state control of education than are imagined in my piece, because they involve issues of individuals taking on a responsibility for which many think themselves unprepared. With health, no one is suggesting you not use a doctor, just less often and for easy to determine serious matters that truly require help — and that’s not a sore throat or a splinter.

    When we had our first child, the pediatrician recommended a book titled “Should I Call A Doctor.” It’s full of common sense. An excellent companion for a life of the mind.

  • Roger McKinney

    Ken, I have heard of some of the proposals for healthcare reform that you mentioned, but just proposing something doesn’t mean it has a chance of passing. Ron Paul proposes a lot of things but few have any chance of being considered.

    Besides, the proposals you mention will not address the problem. The only problem with healthcare is the cost. The high cost keeps insurance premiums too high for most people. That’s why companies pick up most of the tab.

    The high cost of healthcare comes from the AMA limiting the supply of doctors, blocking the use of nurses performing some of the doctor’s work, limited supplies of hospital beds and excess capacity in diagnostic equipment. Nothing being proposed will change any of that.

    If people consume less healthcare so that doctor’s salaries fall, or fail to keep up with inflation, the AMA has proven that it can easily reduce the supply again in order to keep doctor salaries rising as rapidly as it wants.

    And if hospitals have fewer patients to pay for expensive diagnostic equipment, they can simply charge their remaining patients more for aspirin and bandaids.

    What part of our healthcare system do you think is not state-controlled? Are you aware that Medicare already sets prices for all procedures in every field of medicine? I didn’t know it until I started working for an insurance company. Every year the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) surveys thousands of hospitals and doctors to get prices charged for every procedure done in the US. CMS then runs those prices through a very complex model and sets the prices it will pay for every single procedure. Then, when our insurance company negotiates with doctors and hospitals over fees we will pay, we negotiate in terms of percentages of Medicare fees. Federal law requires that CMS always be charged less than the least paid vendor, so negotiations start at 105% of Medicare to be safe. For rare specialties we might go as high as 180% of Medicare.

    The only part of healthcare not controlled by the state is the growth in prices. It’s time the state over that function as well.

  • Ken,

    You keep my education alive. I appreciate your sending your newsletter to me. I hope you will continue to do so when you move. Reading others comments is a reinforcement to your blog.