American society generally views education as enough of a public good to completely fund it and make it free for all.
That standard, according to Richard Komer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, is “from an economic point of view, nonsense.”
Komer spoke at the Legislative Office Building as part of a panel on school choice, hosted by the Federalist Society, a self identified conservative-libertarian law society.
The Federalist Society, said Connecticut chapter president Peter Bowman, does not take positions on specific issues like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education bill, but rather functions as something of a debate society.
Komer, who has argued several school choice cases before the Supreme Court, said that school choice would open up the system to market forces.
Public education, Komer said, cannot be reformed from within.
“What [school choice] can offer is increased competition and increased options, and basically it pursues the model that the rest of America follows, which is ‘let the buyer decide,’” he said, advocating vouchers for private schools.
He likened the difference between a voucher model and the traditional public school to the difference between Section 8 housing assistance and the massive tower housing projects that have fallen out of favor in recent years.
Komer said that school choice does no harm to the public system, creates happier parents, and is cheaper. “The only problem is that teacher’s unions hate [charter schools],” he said.
Gov. Malloy has already dismissed vouchers as a viable option of school reform.
The panel Friday also featured Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, Patrick Riccards, CEO of the education reform group ConnCan, and Gwen Samuel, the Meriden mother and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union.
Suzio said one of the reasons he and his wife chose to move to Meriden in the 1980s was because the city had a large amount of children in the Catholic school system, giving him some amount of choice.
The Senator said that, while he is a supporter of school choice, he disagreed with Komer that the public school system is doomed to fail because it is a public monopoly. Suzio, who spent 14 years on the Meriden Board of Education, said that he has many family members who are teachers, and can empathize with teachers’ fears surrounding the governor’s education reform package.
“I think its a mistake to blame the teachers for what is a systemic problem. And unfortunately the public conflates the two and teachers get held accountable for what is a system failure,” he said.
“[Teachers] are in a very defensive position right now. They’re being blamed for all this stuff, as if they were totally responsible for it, when I think most of them are not.”
But there’s no easy answer to the education reform equation, either personally or politically.
Suzio said that he wished education reform had been saved for a special session of the legislature, so that the legislature could devote more time to it.
“I kind of hope in a way that nothing happens [on education reform] this session, and it actually gets recognized for the important issue it is and it gets deferred and given the attention it deserves with a special session,” Suzio said.
Gwen Samuel, who is credited with forcing passage of the state’s “parent trigger” law, said that she didn’t want to be seen as an enemy of teacher unions.
Samuel was recently fired from her job in New Haven’s Head start program in what she said was retaliation for her association with the controversial former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
“The system, and the way its designed, makes me the enemy of teachers and teachers’ unions. I’m not their enemy,” Samuel said, adding however that the current policy atmospher seems to suggest that you either support teachers, or you support the children.