Recent weeks have brought new evidence of growing support for parental choice in a wide variety of nations.
Last month’s issue of School Reform News reported gains for choice in China, Taiwan, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, and within the Labor government of Great Britain. (See “School Choice Gathers Momentum Worldwide,” School Reform News, November 2003.)
Since then, further developments favorable to educational freedom have come in New Zealand, India, and within the Tory opposition party in Britain.
New Zealand Reforms
New Zealand reformed its school system almost two decades ago by giving parents more direct control of their children’s education within a government-controlled system. This fall, an influential advocacy group called Education Forum issued a report titled “A New Deal: Making Education Work for All New Zealanders,” urging that parents be given “greater freedom to determine what school will best suit their children and, more importantly, backing up that choice with state funding.”
Members of a cross-section of Kiwi political parties attended a parliamentary launch of the choice initiative.
Speaking of the political leaders who participated, Education Forum policy advisor Norman LaRocque said, “This doesn’t mean that their parties share the exact same vision for education. What it means is that these politicians believe that education is more important than party politics, and are willing to come to the table and discuss their ideas for change.”
Endorsing “A New Deal,” Early Childhood Council CEO Sue Thorne asserted, “We don’t have to look overseas to see that school choice for parents and transferable funding works. The preschool sector in New Zealand has worked like that for years. If a parent isn’t happy, they move on to a service that better meets their child’s needs, funding follows the child ‘within the hour’ the parents vote with their feet.
“Now that’s parent power! And it makes services so highly responsive to needs that parents don’t need to move. It can happen and it should happen for schools. How silly it is that parents can choose an educational facility (and have funding follow the child) up until the age of 5 years, but then they can’t.”
Vouchers in India?
In India, the president of the Centre for Civil Society, a prominent think tank based in New Delhi, called for introduction of a voucher system that would free parents from sending their children to government schools. The voucher would be equal to the amount the government spends per child and would be payable to the school a parent chose.
According to the Bhopal Central Chronicle, Centre President Parth J. Shah explained parents would be free to choose schools with tuition higher than the voucher amount if they paid the difference themselves.
Vouchers, he further argued, would encourage the opening of many new schools. In villages currently lacking schools because parents are too poor to afford an education for their children, vouchers would make it possible to open schools because parents for the first time would have education purchasing power.
British Conservatives Propose Vouchers
Last month, news came from Britain that a newly appointed policy advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor government is a strong supporter of school vouchers.
Now, the opposition Conservative Party has unveiled a voucher proposal that would enable parents to use public grants to send their children to independent schools.
The Tories’ shadow education minister, Damian Green, said the school “passports” would “revolutionize” the British educational system in that they would “allow all children to aspire to an excellent education.” Vouchers would debut in inner-city London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool.
“Our scheme will give parents access to new schools, funded by the state but run independently, to meet the needs of those parents who can’t find the right school for their children,” Green said.
Members of the British education establishment were hostile to the proposal.
“Vouchers have been bitterly divisive in the United States,” asserted John Bangs, an official of the National Union of Teachers. “They have damaged successful schools. Parental choice is an illusion and the organization of effective education has been undermined.”
Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank located in Arlington, Virginia. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The October 2003 report from the Education Forum, “A New Deal: Making Education Work for All New Zealanders,” is available with related materials from the Forum’s Web site at http://www.educationforum.org.nz/documents/other/a_new_deal.htm.