School Choice Milestone Calls for New Approach

Next year will mark 30 years since California’s Parental Choice in Education Initiative, Proposition 174, appeared on the ballot. The measure provided a voucher equal to roughly $2600 for use at qualifying government, independent or religious schools. 

As the Christian Science Monitor noted, “not since California started the national tax revolt in 1976 by adopting Proposition 13 have voters faced an initiative with greater political and policy consequences.” Proposition 174 failed, partly due to opposition from then-governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, who called the measure “too costly.” 

Since 1993, California voters have had no opportunity to vote on a parental choice measure. The pandemic amplified the problems of government schools with unnecessary shutdowns. Children are now subject to racist government propaganda, and parents may be branded domestic terrorists if they dare to protest. The problems parents face are best modeled by the “captain of the anti-choice team.” 

Government schools in Washington D.C. are dysfunctional and dangerous. For low-income students, most African American, the only alternative is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, a school choice program run by Congress. Obama education secretary Arne Duncan not only limited the program but rescinded scholarships that had already been granted, sending the students back to failing schools. 

Back in 1993, Prop 174 supporters said parents should have the right to choose the schools their children attend. It would be more accurate to say that parents have had this right all along. Still, it has been taken away from them, just as Arne Duncan rescinded scholarships already granted. Call it educational theft. 

The strategy moving forward should be to restore the right to choose. If the legal and political obstacles seem daunting or “too costly,” ponder the prospect of another 30 years under current conditions. Teacher cartels call the shots, students are essentially captives to government propaganda, and parents are forced to pay the freight. 

The right to choose must be restored, and the dollars should follow the scholars, as in the G.I. Bill. That is the path to meaningful reform, increased student achievement, and the expansion of liberty. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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