At last check, it was a bundle for the failing public school system, and nothing for private schools or school vouchers.

Here’s hoping that changes before it’s finalized.

Focusing on education is not a distraction from the
pressing business of economic recovery; it is vital to ensuring it.
When asked recently to explain the causes of the stagnation of the
American economy, the first response of Paypal co-founder and CEO of
Clarion Capital Peter Thiel was telling: “You have an educational
system that is very broken.”

For one thing, it’s over-regulated.

Evidence continues to suggest that private schools
educate more efficiently than public ones. Yet the largest private
system in the country, Catholic schools, continue to struggle: A New
York Times article last month—prompted by the announcement of another
raft of school closures in the city—noted that the number of students
in Catholic schools is half what it was in the 1960s.

Here’s what the Times tends not to report.

Declining private school enrollment should not be taken
as an indication that parents are satisfied with conventional public
schools.

Pay attention to the story behind the headlines.

That demand for alternatives persists is proved by a
recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics,
showing a 36 percent rise in the number of homeschooled children from
2003 to 2007 (now standing at 1.5 million, almost 3 percent of the
school population).

A 36 percent rise in homeschooling is significant.

Interest in choice within the public arena—for example, charter schools and open enrollment—remains high as well.

And isn’t choice the goal?

Only in some life experiences, so to speak.

Declining private enrollment is more likely due to the
fact that families, especially in a downturn, increasingly cannot
afford to support two school systems, one through their taxes and
another through their tuition. States should promote public school
alternatives, fostering competition and greater efficiency.

Exactly. But now the congressional stimulus juggernaut is edging alternatives out.

Like the restrictions to religious freedom and health care buried in
the bill, education will suffer if Congress doesn’t seriously
reconsider how it apportions resources.

More important than this year’s budget or next year’s
deficit is the economic viability of the next century. Without a sound
educational system, the prospects dim considerably. It should be clear
by now that prosperity depends on both technical expertise and moral
integrity. Neither can be achieved without bringing freedom to our
schools…Where schools have failed, parents must be encouraged to select
more effective options for their children.

School reform and school choice are not peripheral to economic recovery and future prosperity. They are essential.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....