Paul Jacob

America's public schools aren't all that funny. Yet there's something Kafkaesque about their very nature — and Kafka, I'm told, is supposed to be funny.

Consider: our vast system of government-run local monopolies suffers further cartelization at state and national levels. Like something out of Kafka, it's designed to allow for little choice. It's designed to frustrate choice. You might as well beat your head against a castle wall.

What We've Learned
Some things do get learned, though.

For example, years of low- and no-choice monopoly schooling have taught a majority of America's parents one lesson: not to complain much. They've learned the tacit message from America's teachers and school administrators: Mind your own business. Your children's education is our business, not yours. OK, K.?

Of course, a vocal minority of parents, of all races and ethnicities, do demand better.

Trouble is, politicians, backed by teachers' unions and state bureaucracies, don't want to give it to them. See what happened in South Carolina last year with Governor Sanford's universal tax credit proposal. The legislature wouldn't go along.

But not all legislatures are equally set against school choice. Consider the lesson of Florida.

Back in 1999, a "half-blown" voucher system found its way into law. It offered some choice to students in the worst schools. I say "half blown" because it was so timid, so far from being a "full-blown" choice-in-education plan. Only a small segment of the state's students were affected. How many? In the system's last year of operation, so few students qualified that only 700 or so took up the state on its offer to opt out with vouchers.

Unfortunately, any chipping away at the government-run monolith is not to be tolerated, so the monopoly system found a savior, a teacher indoctrinated enough (or merely self-interested enough) to sue.

And last January the lawsuit won. Florida's little experiment in vouchers is over.

What were they thinking? Well, the judges chose limited choice not for the reasons you might think.

For years American proponents of school choice struggled with competing interpretations of the First Amendment. The establishment clause could be construed to prohibit the granting to students and parents money that could be spent on religious schools. Separation of church and state, you see.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.