Barry Fagin (copy)

It’s official: If you get mad at a school board meeting, the FBI might be paying you a visit.

Check out the latest from your country’s highest ranking law enforcement officer, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Just a couple of weeks ago, he issued an official Justice Department memo directing the FBI to meet with local law enforcement authorities to address an alleged epidemic of “harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school board members”. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The timing of the memo is especially important because, assuming you drive with your eyes open, you know it’s school board election time. You can’t crawl through your local neighborhood school zone without seeing dozens of signs telling you to vote for people you’ve never heard of.

And not just school board election signs. We have signs that school board controversies are going to be particularly intense this year. Masks for children? Masks for teachers? Vaccines for children? Vaccines for teachers? Equity and diversity readings? Critical race theory? Mandatory? Optional? Encouraged? Forbidden?

All this in addition to the usual controversies: human origins, religious teaching, sex ed, math wars, dress codes, who the heck knows what else. Under the present system, one side at your school will win, the other side will lose. What if you wind up a loser and have the temerity to be upset? You might have your kid’s picture on the refrigerator, but your picture might wind up on the wall of the post office.

Turns out there’s no evidence of a dramatic upturn in upset parents at school board meetings. Nor is there evidence local law enforcement is begging for federal help in dealing with parents trying to do right by their kids.

Fortunately, 17 state attorneys general have called for Garland’s memo to be withdrawn, and many state school board associations have withdrawn or are considering withdrawing from the National School Board Association, whose original letter to the Department of Justice prompted Garland’s memo. I remain hopeful sanity will prevail.

But the question remains: Why do things have to be this way?

Must parents be locked in perpetual battles against one another over sincerely held but differing values?

Must school board fights be truly “zero sum games”, where someone wins only if someone else loses? Are parents in a school district naturally divided into racists vs anti-racists, moral vs godless, ignorant vs educated, Republican vs Democrat? Or is there something else going on?

The problem, I suggest, is not with parents, but with the system. Because tax money flows to a politically drawn school district based on where people live, parents are pretty much stuck. Pay the school first, then go the board and beg. Give parents vouchers, and these problems go away.

With school choice, you replace monopoly and zero-sum with pluralism and tolerance. One school might be big on social justice, diversity and inclusion. Another might focus on the three R’s. Another might appeal to parents of a particular faith tradition. Still another might be completely secular.

School board battles become a thing of the past.

Sure, vouchers aren’t perfect. Nothing is. A world with vouchers and real school choice means you’re going to have to live in a society where tax dollars go to parents who are raising and educating their children with values that might differ from yours. So be it. Isn’t accepting that the very definition of tolerance?

Nor does school choice have to be problem-free to be better than what we have now. We are now so hopelessly stuck in forced political battles that America’s top law enforcement officer actually believes it’s OK to bring in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether upset parents qualify as domestic terrorists. How much worse can it get?

It’s venal and hypocritical for public education advocates to call in the feds to solve problems created by the very same monopoly system they have created and zealously defended. Enough of social justice warriors and gender equity battles. Enough of the culture wars. Enough of the curriculum wars.

Give us vouchers and school choice. Give peace a chance.

Barry Fagin is senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

Barry Fagin is Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Dr. Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

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