Under a House-approved school-voucher plan for Washington, D.C., some 2 percent of the district’s captive students would be offered $7,500 (about 70 percent of the per-pupil cost in the district’s public schools) toward the cost of a private school. Only parents with a low income would qualify, with priority given to students stuck in the 15 worst-performing schools.
Even this tightly rationed tidbit of choice and competition frightens those determined to force all low-income students into the district’s notoriously lousy public schools. Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher managed to describe the bill’s stingy sampling of school choice as "hoodwinking." He also claimed to find it "offensive" that some parents with vouchers might choose a Catholic school.
My Cato Institute colleagues David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue are amazed that it has somehow become fashionably liberal to argue that women should be allowed to choose whether or not to have an abortion while simultaneously claiming mothers should have no choice at all about where to send their kids to school. This is indeed quite remarkable. All parents would be rightly outraged if bureaucrats alone could choose where their kids could attend college. Yet those who define "public" schooling as synonymous with zero choice claim parents have no right to be outraged when arrogant bureaucrats insist their children be assigned to K-12 schools like branded cattle.
How and where children are schooled should surely be one of the most important decisions parents make, at least as important as buying a house and car. Yet this is the only major purchase in which most parents have no choice at all. They have to either pay up for whatever government agents supply or else pack up and move to another school district.
In truth, we would never even consider buying anything of importance as carelessly as we buy education for our kids. Take food and clothing, for example. Suppose some politicians decided that because food and clothing are so important, they will henceforth be distributed in exactly the same way we supply public schooling -- namely, through government-run public superstores. To prevent people from crowding the best of these public markets, consumers would be assigned to a particular local store, just as students are now assigned to a particular school. The store you would be permitted to use would depend entirely on where your home was located.
Administrators of each local store would decide which varieties of food and