Ben Austin of Parent Revolution and Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute have been engaging in a civil dialogue on the merits of educators and parents being able to purchase instructional and management services from for-profit corporations. Austin opposes allowing parents and educators to have this option, while Hess is a supporter.
Austin’s advocacy of parental empowerment derives from his belief that public education too often puts adult needs over the needs of children. He thinks giving parents more influence over how their children are educated will move students to the center of educational decision-making. But Austin opposes allowing parents to contract with for-profit corporations because he thinks these companies will be more concerned with profit than children’s needs. A summary of Austin’s position was recently posted on the Parent Revolution blog: “Because we believe children need to be put first in every decision, it is far better to have non-profit organizations – accountable to parents, taxpayers and a stated mission – than a for-profit organization, which by definition is accountable first and foremost to investors and shareholders … ”
Hess argues that for-profit corporations already provide billions of dollars of products and services to school districts every year, and if parents decide a for-profit company can best meet their children’s needs, they should be allowed to work with it.
I agree with Hess. While Ben Austin is clearly well intentioned, his argument is based on ideology and politics, and not good public policy. Parents should be free to contract with providers that best meet their children’s needs.
The ad hominem aspect of Austin’s argument is troubling. While I was doing my holiday shopping this year, the gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity of the salespeople I talked to was irrelevant, as was their employer’s tax status. What was relevant was the quality and price of the products or services they were selling. I suspect Ben has these same priorities when he shops, and he likewise does not consider a corporation’s tax status when he purchases products and services for his family and friends. Continue Reading →