How Much Does Your State Regulate Private Schools: A Report

May 5, 2008

Article by Tammy Drennan

How severely does your state regulate private schools?  That’s what The Friedman Foundation set out to determine about all fifty states.

My state, Georgia, scored a very good A-. The state I can see from my back door, Tennessee, earned itself an F. Some of the scores are surprising (to me, at least).

Connecticut scored an A, Massachusetts a C-. California earned a B, New Jersey an A, and Mississippi and Alabama both F’s (though it’s better for private religious schools in Alabama). Twenty-two states scored a D or an F.

Overall, what The Friedman Foundation discovered and published in its April 2008 “Fifty Educational Markets” report is that the level of private school regulation in our country is discouraging for those who believe in freedom in education. What they concluded seems logical – we should work to reduce state control over private education if we’re to have any hope of a free market and thus significant improvement of education in the future.

What they didn’t conclude was that government funding of schools and regulation are not separable.

By way of example (and bear with me – I include interesting quotes from the report a little farther down, but I want to address this issue first), the report says, “The value of an educated public was even enshrined in early state constitutions… The Massachusetts Constitution, framed by John Adams, declares:

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish … public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions [of learning]. [Excerpt quoted by report from Chapter V, Section II of MA Constitution]

But the Massachusetts Constitution also has this to say:

Article XVIII, from original MA Constitution of 1821, amended in 1917 (amendment following):

Article XVIII. [All moneys raised by taxation in the towns and cities for the support of public schools, and all moneys which may be appropriated by the state for the support of common schools, shall be applied to, and expended in, no other schools than those which are conducted according to law, under the order and superintendence of the authorities of the town or city in which the money is to be expended; and such moneys shall never be appropriated to any religious sect for the maintenance exclusively of its own schools.]

Article XVIII, amended in 1917:

Article XLVI. (In place of article XVIII… ratified and adopted November 6, 1917.)

Article XVIII.

Section 2. All moneys raised by taxation in the towns and cities for the support of public schools, and all moneys which may be appropriated by the commonwealth for the support of common schools shall be applied to, and expended in, no other schools than those which are conducted according to law, under the order and superintendence of the authorities of the town or city in which the money is expended; and no grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of public credit shall be made or authorized by the commonwealth or any political division thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any other school or institution of learning, whether under public control or otherwise, wherein any denominational doctrine is inculcated, or any other school, or any college, infirmary, hospital, institution, or educational, charitable or religious undertaking which is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control, order and superintendence of public officers or public agents authorized by the commonwealth or federal authority or both…

As you can see, the tradition of attaching government regulation to tax subsidies is pretty old.

Now, the situation with private schools in most states is that they’re regulated even when they don’t receive any government money. Not only does The Friedman Foundation want them largely unregulated, they want them to be able to accept tax revenues by way of vouchers.

In a dream world this might happen. But it has not been the tradition of our government, even from the earliest days.

We should, we must, work for the freedom of private education, but freedom demands personal responsibility and independence.

Children who leave home but want Mom and Dad to continue supporting them more often than not find a few strings attached. Those strings motivate them to stand on their own two feet so they can live on their own terms, or they find themselves compromising their potential for maturity and growth by “going along to get along.”

Government subsidy of private education simply will not work if the end goal is freedom, innovation and excellence. The sooner we get down to business about outgrowing our longing for the easy life, the sooner we’ll be able to start living on our own terms and creating better options for ever more children.

Now for some thought-provoking quotes from the report:

At no time in our nation’s history have we spent more on public education than we do now, even when costs are adjusted for inflation.

During the progressive movement of the early 20th century, emphasis on an “educated public” morphed into the call for “public education.” While the terms may seem synonymous, they are not. Modern debate about how best to educate the public incorrectly confuses a public education, meaning government-run schools, with the broader idea of an educated public. In short, the 20th century saw the rise of government-run schools as the central means of securing an educated populace. The result is that public school students outnumber private school students by a margin of 8 to 1.4.

…while the extent of private school regulation
varies tremendously from state to state, private schools
are not “unregulated,” in any sense of that word, in any state in the Union. …most states impose at least some unreasonable regulations on private schools.

…empirical research consistently shows that private school students are more socially tolerant than public schools students.

If we are serious about educating the public, doing so may require us to seek alternatives to government monopolies in the education marketplace.