To the Founding Fathers, “equality” meant all citizens have equal rights and thus should have equal standing before the law. To today’s so-called liberals, “equality” means everyone should have equal opportunities in life. A recent illustration of this can be seen in an article John Cook wrote for Gawker, “There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis: Let’s Ban Private Schools.”
“Public schools,” Cook notes, are beset with “stagnant or declining graduation rates, substandard educations, dilapidated schools, angry teachers, underserved students.” These problems could be fixed, Cook argues, by outlawing private schools. “Wealthy people tend to lobby effectively for their interests, and if their interests were to include adequate public funding for the schools their children attend,” equality of opportunity would follow. “Put simply,” writes Cook, the “moral argument for banning private education” is this:
Equality of opportunity demands that children should not be penalized—or advantaged—by the accident of their birth. Educational benefits, which are the most crucial resource when it comes to determining the life-outcomes for children of all backgrounds, shouldn’t be distributed based on how rich your parents are. They should be distributed equally.
In addition to being morally obscene because it calls for massive increases in the violation of individual rights, Cook’s argument is economically absurd because it ignores the rights-based causes of quality in education.
When government-run schools have received greater funding, they have failed to improve. Why? In short, because government-run schools are not accountable to owners or to customers. Why? Because no one owns them, everyone is forced to fund them, and children are forced to attend them.
When government-run schools fail, they get to stay in “business” and complain that they need more money to do “better”—and that if they don’t get more money, they’ll continue to provide sub-par services. What other “business” gets to operate this way? (Think mail.)
Contra Cook, the solution to the atrocity known as “public” schools is to abolish government-run schools and completely privatize the market for education. Then all schools would be accountable to owners (or voluntary supporters) and customers—all would sink or swim based on merit—and all would enjoy equality before the law.