- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

The current debate surrounding sex education in Montgomery County reminds us again of the need for greater educational freedom. Tenth-grade students putting condoms on cucumbers joins a growing list of concerns that parents have over the quality of education their kids are receiving in public schools.

This is precisely why my campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates will focus primarily on educational freedom.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe that the government ought to be in the education business in the first place. I find the cookie-cutter, compulsory-schooling regime to be totally anathema to the process of real learning, and most importantly, to the unique development of every individual human mind. In my opinion, children require particularized instruction. That’s why my wife and I decided to homeschool our kids.

That said, I understand that many people will not agree with me. They feel that public schools are a necessary and vital tool for providing education to the young. I would disagree with such people. However, I also respect the fact that, right or wrong, they genuinely want all children to have a shot at a good education.

It is in the spirit of compromise, then, that I make my proposal: that those who choose to support the public-school system leave their children in their local school and continue paying for it with their property taxes.

But the rest of us also deserve a choice in how our children are educated. Yes, we have the right to send our kids to a private school or teach them at home, but we’re unnecessarily handicapped in exercising our choice: Current tax policies require us to “pay twice,” making it extremely difficult to afford.

What I am asking is that those of us who choose differently from the majority have our views granted equal consideration before the law. Those who believe in public education should pay for it; those of us who don’t should be granted as much respect.

In the House of Delegates, I will work with other reform-minded legislators to liberate those who feel trapped in a failed system. What we need is a law that allows taxpayers who do not send their children to a public school to receive a property-tax refund (for an amount no larger that the percentage of their property tax that currently goes to their local public school) or an equivalent tax credit on their state income taxes.

This should not be confused with a “school voucher” program. That system would allow taxpayer funds to be spent on religious institutions, violating the intent of the First Amendment. A voucher program essentially subsidizes parent’s educational choices; my proposal is not a subsidy.

As I see it, taxpayers would be refunded only their own money that is currently being used to provide a seat for their child in the local public school.

What would be the result of such a policy? Many people, happy with their local school, would likely opt to keep their children where they are. Others will either home-school or use their tax relief to help pay private- school tuition.

Children from low-income families would benefit the most from this proposal; no longer forced to pay for decaying and failing schools, poor families could pool their resources and pay good teachers to instruct kids at home or in the local library, spurring a renaissance in educational alternatives.

Would this mean a funding cut for public schools? Yes, but it would also mean that the educational institutions that were better reflecting the values of parents and doing a better job of teaching children would be rewarded. That’s real progress.

The idea of educational property tax relief may already be catching on. According to the Jan. 24 Northern Virginia Journal, a bill sponsored by Delagate Bob Marshall, Manassas Republican, would give the Prince William County Board of Supervisors “authority to grant a property tax credit to parents living in the attendance zone of a public school that the school board has declared to be overcrowded if they agreed to send their child to a private school instead.” Why not give anyone who decides to privately educate or home-school their child that same consideration? After all, this isn’t supposed to be about what’s good for the schools — it’s supposed to be about what’s good for the students.

Parents are the most qualified to choose the type of education that is best for their children. Let’s better empower Virginia’s parents to do just that.

Scott McPherson is the Libertarian candidate for Virginia House of Delegates, in District 37.

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