BY JAMES WERNICKE
Thanks to competition in both the LAPS School Board and UNM-LA Advisory Board this November, voters have an opportunity to compel candidates to commit on issues they care about. This competition highlights one of the most significant educational challenges today: the misconception that state-monopolized systems, which often prioritize uniformity over individual needs, lead to optimal outcomes. Instead, we should endorse voluntary, community-driven systems that recognize the inherent worth of every individual and allow them to make decisions best suited to their unique circumstances.
As with any market-driven system, competition promotes excellence. Schools in a voluntary system must continuously innovate, not just in academic offerings, but in tuition financing solutions, making quality education accessible and affordable. Because a voluntary educational system thrives on diversity and choice, schools are more inclined to tailor their curricula based on students’ needs. Financial literacy, an essential life skill, will likely be given the attention it warrants, preparing students for real-world financial challenges and providing an equitable solution to our student debt problem.
On the surface, it might seem counterintuitive that school choice would reduce socioeconomic disparities. However, the current coercive system encourages socioeconomic disparities by tying educational quality to geography, income, and the whims of self-interested legislators. When funds follow students, and families are free to choose, even those from less affluent backgrounds can access quality education. When we recognize that equity is not just an “agenda”, but a boon to human prosperity, school choice transcends beyond a simple per-pupil formula to adjust funding for variances such as transportation and economies of scale in rural vs. urban areas, special needs students, and non-academic services like meals, childcare, and counseling. To remain competitive, education policymakers would continuously evaluate the efficacy and fairness of the funding formula, adjusting as necessary based on feedback from schools, communities, and educational experts. In other words, voluntary systems reward educational policies that are stakeholder-focused and forward-thinking, and free schools from the bureaucracies that stand in the way of improving education.
Detractors of voluntary systems argue that they only work in utopian settings free of greed. A counter to that argument is that state-run systems also only work in utopias free of corruption. Furthermore, history shows that voluntary organizations provided high-quality education long before the rise of expansive state-driven educational systems. In many ancient cultures, temples and religious institutions were the primary centers of learning. The world’s oldest existing and continuously operating educational institution – The University of Al-Qarawiyyin – was founded in philanthropy. In ancient Greece, wealthy citizens often sponsored training for young men, ensuring they could participate in physical and intellectual activities that would prepare them for roles as citizens. Before the establishment of widespread public education in England, “dame schools” were informal, home-based, schools where women taught children basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, funded by community contributions or minimal fees. In the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and the United States, benevolent societies were formed to provide education to the underprivileged, funded by wealthy benefactors concerned with the welfare of the less fortunate. After the American Civil War, African American communities, recognizing the importance of education to uplift their community, often pooled resources to fund schools and hire teachers. Originating in Scotland in the early 19th century and spreading to other parts of the world, Mechanics’ Institutes provided working men with education, particularly in technical subjects, funded by memberships and philanthropic donations. These efforts collectively underpin humanity’s longstanding recognition of the value of education and the willingness of individuals and communities to voluntarily support it.
Education is too critical an endeavor to be limited by coercive, bureaucratic monopolies. By embracing a voluntary approach, we champion individual freedoms, encourage innovation, and pave the way for a brighter future for all students. It’s not just a matter of efficiency – it’s a moral imperative.
Make your voice heard by candidates for education boards and vote on or before Tuesday, Nov. 7.