Strap on the Armor and Go: Never Give In!
Starting this month, Quentin L. Quade, author of over 100 articles and books in
political science, will be distinguished with somewhat unusual dual emeritus status at
Milwaukee's Marquette University: Professor of Political Science Emeritus and Executive
Vice-President Emeritus. He was for many years not only an influential teacher at
Marquette, as Raynor Professor of Political Science, but also heavily involved in the
university's administration as Executive Vice President.
However, it is for another role that Quade is well-known to school choice advocates:
Since 1993, he has been Director of Marquette's Blum Center for Parental Freedom in
Education, named after school choice pioneer Father Virgil C. Blum. Quade established the
Center in 1992 when it became clear that President George Bush would lose his election and
that the Center for Choice in the Department of Education would be killed--as it was
killed--as soon as William Clinton took office.
The Blum Center organizes information on school choice from around the country and
makes that information available to the nation's school choice constituency in a
systematized fashion, including the regular publication of The Educational Freedom
Report, which Quade edits. Though the Center had been scheduled to close this summer,
a new partnership with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation now ensures that the
unique contributions of the Blum Center will continue into the future. Quade recently
spoke with School Reform News' managing editor George Clowes.
Clowes: What is the focus of your interest in school choice?
Quade: School choice has to do with the relation of religion and
politics, with the impact of various institutional structures on policy, how separation of
powers can be used to block majority will, and how court decisions can also be used that
same way. Those are institutional matters, they are a part of the school choice history in
this country, and they are long-standing matters of interest to me.
Clowes: Most people think that they control their local schools
through the electoral process, but you describe the government school system as a finance
monopoly. Do voters really control their schools?
Quade: You have several forms of public control. Obviously, the
ultimate one is through the state legislative processes, because state legislatures do the
funding of the public school system and therefore have a form of control over it. What the
finance monopoly means is that all the tax dollars assigned by the state for educational
purposes are given to public schools, and public schools only. That's a monopoly of
Now, the second level of control is normally thought of to be the local school boards.
The problem is that those local school boards are almost always coopted by the systems
they are supposed to be presiding over, so that they aren't effective controls. What they
tend to be is primary cheerleaders for the professionals, the bureaucrats, and the teacher
unions, who are themselves the operators of the local school systems.
When I was a youngster in Iowa, in the little towns strewn among the farms of Iowa, the
local schools were parentally controlled because they were small and precisely local.
Since World War II particularly, American education is no longer simply the product of a
variety of independent local schools. It is a product, rather, of state systems and city
systems. In those kinds of things, parents and school boards simply do not exercise
Moreover, when I was a youngster, the tiny public schools and the tiny Catholic schools
were very much alike: The ethical structures were the same, the ethical presumptions were
the same. The public schools didn't teach Catholic dogma, obviously, but the entire set of
ethical norms was essentially the same from one place to the other--because the parents
were the same and they were in control of both sets of schools. Those little schools
weren't like today's public schools because they were then parentally controlled. Today
they no longer are.
Clowes: Speaking of ethics, one of the concerns you have raised
about government schools is their effect on a child's ethical development. Could you
elaborate on this?
Quade: For many parents, the most radical problem with the public
schools has nothing to do with test scores. For many of them it has to do with the fact
that the ethos of those schools does not reflect the ethos of the home environment out of
which the youngsters come. What you have is a disconnect between the set of parental
presumptions with which they raise their youngsters and the environment for most public
That isn't because the people in public education are bad people or lack ethics. It's
because ethics flows from particular points of view, from a particular source of valuing.
It might be religious, it might be philosophical, it might be nothing more than family
tradition, but it would be particular.
What has happened in your mass American educational framework is that, in order to
serve all students, as they must, they can't serve any of them in the ethical sense that
I've described. It's impossible. The only way you can hope to do anything within these
monopolistic "one-size-fits-all" schools is to set aside precise, pronounced
ethical teaching in the sense that you might be able to do it at some Lutheran Evangelical
school. This has nothing to do with bad will. It has to do with what happens when you try
to force a lot of different things into one particular form.
Clowes: How would school choice help?
Quade: This is one of the things that school choice naturally speaks
to and naturally solves. School choice means that parents are able to look for the kind of
educational environment that they take to be most helpful to the continued development of
their youngsters. If you look at Holland, for example, it has one of the world's finest
North Star school choice programs, with the parents deciding where their education dollars
are going to go.
Approximately 70 percent of Dutch youngsters go to non-state schools, of which about
two-thirds are religious-based schools. This means that Dutch parents, even though they
are not themselves very strongly participating in religious life any more, are making
educational choices on the basis of religious, ethical presumptions. That's what parental
freedom is all about.
Clowes: It sounds similar to what's happening in the inner cities,
where a lot of non-Catholics go to Catholic schools.
Quade: Exactly. I will never forget a few years ago in one of the
small black churches in Milwaukee, where the pastor stood up and said, "We are losing
our boys. And because we are losing our boys, we are going to create a school." They
were the poorest church mice but they were moved by the fact that "their boys"
were going to schools that were not providing the kind of ethical back-up for what the
parents were trying to do. So they created a school out of nothing. When you talk about
offering things to your community, what greater offering can you possibly make to your
community than this?
Clowes: Is there a particular alternative to the education finance
monopoly that you prefer?
Quade: I used the term North Star earlier. If you look at the best
systems, they represent a kind of North Star toward which we should all be moving at all
times. We may have to move in baby steps rather than huge ones, but we won't know where to
point our toes if we don't know where the North Star is.
What you do under the North Star is to take all tax dollars dedicated to education,
divide them by the number of children to be educated, and say to parents: "Take the
money and go where you think it's best." For example, Belgium, Denmark, and Australia
are doing essentially the same as the Dutch, with parents deciding where their education
tax dollars go. That is exactly what Arne Carlson in Minnesota said had to be the ultimate
objective for the educational reforms that he was creating there.
Having said that, how do you get to the North Star? With the baby step, the partial
step that reality forces on you. Your basic options are tax credit programs, such as in
Minnesota and Iowa, or the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Two, or the Cleveland voucher
program. Those are all partial steps, with geographical limitations, or family income
limitations, or funding at relatively low levels. Those are real limitations but they are
steps toward the North Star. The key question isn't whether it's tax credits or vouchers,
the key question is, "Does this proposal move us some distance toward the achievement
of the North Star?"
Clowes: How would you respond to those who say that along with tax
dollars comes increased regulation of private schools?
Quade: This is one of what I call the "Two Ghastly
Specters." One ghastly specter is any form of state assistance that extends to
private schools must necessarily ruin those schools or corrupt them. But there's another
specter that is infinitely more powerful, and that is: you're killing all those schools
right now. Let's get our sense of proportion here. Is there some danger that the piper
will have to be paid? Yes, there is. What must you do about that? Be vigilant!
The best school choice legislative proposals write into themselves a clause along these
lines: "There is to be no additional regulation of independent schools because of
this legislation beyond what is already required in terms of health and safety
One of the models for this comes from a friend of yours, Kay O'Connor, over in Kansas.
She's kind of a heroine in this business because Kansas is not the most pregnant place for
school choice. If you look at her legislative proposals since 1995, you'll find a sentence
saying exactly that about no additional regulation.
Colleges and universities got along with the GI Bill perfectly well without any
additional regulation. I can tell you from my experience as Executive Vice President at
Marquette for nearly twenty years that there are no entanglements attached to the
Wisconsin Tuition Grant Program, which began in 1965 and is a perfect model for K-12
voucher-type legislation. I can therefore tell you by analogy that there don't have to be
entanglements attached to K-12 voucher programs or tax credit programs.
Clowes: What one message would you like to communicate to our
Quade: Never give in. I'm quoting Winston Churchill here: "Never
give in, never give in, never give in. On matters of principle, no matter how small, never
give in." The reason I say that is because this is a long road. It is a very
difficult road due to the phenomenon of social inertia, so easily manipulated by the
forces of the educational finance monopoly. Every fight is an uphill fight and your
biggest enemy is the loss of will. So, never give in, never delude yourself into thinking
this is going to be a short trip because it isn't. Strap on the armor and go, because
that's the only way it's going to get done.
Quentin L. Quade's latest book, Financing Education: The Struggle between
Government Monopoly and Parental Control (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ,
1996), establishes the connection between the problems of America's K-12 education and the
Education Finance Monopoly. Offering school choice without financial penalty as a powerful
and obvious cure, Quade examines several school choice proposals and school funding
mechanisms in other countries.