“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” Henry David Thoreau
Doug Holmes of Farmington, Utah, has taken Thoreau’s words as his motto in his fight to ensure a better education for his children–all six of them. His oldest child is a senior in high school.
“Unless parents are allowed to have responsibility for the education of their children and thus break the ridiculous education establishment monopoly, our economy, our civil society, and our liberty are at risk,” said Holmes. For him, the K-12 education monopoly is clearly a root issue.
Three years ago, after Holmes moved to Utah, he formed Education Excellence Utah with Jordan Clements, founder and chairman of Children First Utah. The philosophy of the group is simple: Improve education in Utah through the introduction of meaningful parental choice.
Education Excellence Utah (http://www.edexutah.org) is a partner with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to help promote school choice in Utah. Their joint efforts in educating the public about school choice were in evidence in 2003 when the Utah legislature almost passed a comprehensive universal tuition tax credit program. The tax credit is again expected to be a topic for legislators in the 2004 session.
Tuition tax credits will allow parents who send their children to a private school to claim a credit on their taxes. Thus, parents are allowed more choice in where their child receives an education–an idea Holmes is very familiar with. Although all his children currently attend public schools, they also have attended charter schools and have been home educated.
“We have had our children in school in four different states–Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts, and Utah,” Holmes said. “By far our best experience was in Colorado in a Core Knowledge-based charter school.”
After the experience in Colorado, Holmes thought school choice in Utah would be an easy sell.
“When coming to Utah, I thought it was a conservative state that valued individual responsibility and choice. I believed we could easily persuade the public on the benefits of educational choice and Utah could provide a model of the benefits of choice to other states.”
He is quick to concede he may have been somewhat naive, but it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to strike at the root that deprives parents of the responsibility for educating their children.
“The importance of an educated populace to our way of life cannot be overstated,” contended Holmes. “The current guardians of that core American value have failed miserably in their stewardship, as they have put control and personal ego ahead of the children of America.”
While encouraged by the progress of school choice in Utah and across the country, Holmes believes school choice advocates have to be more aggressive to achieve a major breakthrough. He views two areas as posing the most difficult challenges.
First, there is the “tyranny of the status quo,” which includes underestimating the power of entrenched bureaucrats and special interest groups who fight tooth and nail to defend the existing system. Second, too many parents in Utah passively accept mediocrity in the education of their children.
But Holmes also thinks the power of the education establishment will ultimately overreach itself.
“I see the education establishment continue to expose itself and its desire for control above all else,” said Holmes. “As it does, more and more people recognize the need for major change.”
As more Utahns are made aware of the benefits of choice and the school choice movement picks up momentum, Holmes anticipates there will be many more, not just one, striking at the root.
Robert Fanger is the media relations and communications associate with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana. His email address is [email protected].