Parental Freedom in the States and Nation

Published September 1, 1999

A Farewell to the Blum Center

Dr. Quentin L. Quade opened the Virgil C. Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education in August of 1992. The organization would act as a depository of information on school choice, offering grassroots supporters information and contacts to which they otherwise might have no access.

Since then, limited school choice programs have won legislative approval in seven states, and legislation has been introduced in at least 40 states. The nation is far more informed about school choice than it was when the Blum Center opened.

Before his untimely death on January 20, 1999, Dr. Quade had planned to close the Blum Center at some time between 1998 and 2001, since the Center’s original goals were being sufficiently met on a steady basis. Those of us who worked closely with Dr. Quade or knew him well are partly consoled knowing that his work is finally done. Appropriately, so is the work of the Blum Center, which ceased operations on July 31. The Center offers great thanks to the many people and organizations that supported its work over the years.

The following commentary is reprinted from the first issue of The Educational Freedom Report.

Hanging Alone or Together
by Quentin L. Quade

Sometimes advocates of educational choice without financial penalty see its beauty and its justice and imagine that a thing so clearly right must inevitably be victorious. Those same people can be prone to despair when a specific choice effort is shot down in flames. One reason for these failures up to now is that many who want educational choice for particular reasons__any of the natural constituencies described in “All Roads Lead to Educational Choice”__look askance at others, equally supportive of choice but for different reasons. Without urging an artificial camaraderie, I do want to suggest that some of this antipathy and isolation would give way to productive alliances if all who desire educational choice would acknowledge several realities.

First, the essential educational conflict of our time is between educational finance monopoly (EFM), on the one hand, and parental allocation of some or all of education-dedicated tax dollars, on the other. It is not between EFM and one or another specific form of parental allocation, nor among choice alternatives.

Second, no specific choice proposal anywhere in the U.S. has characteristics entirely pleasing to all natural constituencies. But change requires a specific form within a given jurisdiction, and the form chosen, in California, New York, Wisconsin, Florida, or wherever, will be a product of the particular history out of which it emerges.

Third, though that specific proposal’s attractiveness will vary among the different natural constituencies, they should all be able to support it enthusiastically if it brings an end to EFM, and if it is described as a beginning step. That will begin to restore parental control, introduce competition and comparison, and provide the ability to assess alternative means to the good end of educational achievement.

Fourth, once the huge stumbling blocks of inertia and vested interest manipulation thereof are removed by EFM’s demise, the process of changing and perfecting educational funding policy will be greatly simplified, and be more like normal policy exposed to political give and take. In politics we do not expect normally to have done “it”__whatever “it” is__”once and for all.” So it can be in educational funding. Once EFM is replaced with parental allocation of education dollars, there is no reason to think the particular device we start with will or must last. And that is why different natural constituencies, with different perspectives, should be able to unite to unhorse EFM and start the process of parental allocation.

Experience should convince them all that, as EFM’s defenders have shown time and again, advocates of parental freedom will surely hang alone if they do not hang together. Just as surely, they will be unstoppable if they join forces. United, they have the numbers as well as justice on their side.

Excerpted with permission from The Freedom Report (#73, July 23, 1999), Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education, Marquette University.