by Rex Sinqufield, November 30, 2012
Some time ago, in my article entitled “Why Rahm Was Right to Fight for Kids,” I highlighted the lobbying effort by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to stand tall with reforms during the teachers’ strike in the Windy City.
Shortly after that campaign’s resolution, other prominent Democrats on the national scene, including Michelle Rhee, cited such moves as transformational to the Democratic Party. Specifically, the Students First leader claimed, “Increasingly, those who staunchly side with unions at any cost appear to be in the minority, while more Democrats are saying we have to look at education differently.”
With school performance measures, common core standards and value-added learning now being accepted into the community mainstream, perhaps new consumer choices for pupils, parents and taxpayers will expand. Such choices certainly make sense in the marketplace – and, most importantly, they make great sense for our students.
Mayor Emanuel is proving himself to be a leader who is more interested in making change than in playing politics. His commitment to reforming antiquated systems is not singularly focused on education. This week, Emanuel introduced an incentive program that will encourage private and public truck fleets to move away from diesel fuel in favor of electric power.
The first program of its kind in the nation, this innovative plan provides vouchers that will cover much of the cost of the fleets’ new electric vehicles. Importantly, it leaves the freedom to offer the incentive to the vendor, and the freedom to choose the product and the incentives to the consumer. This kind of incentive far outweighs the heavier hand of using regulatory mandates or certain price controls, since participation from local vendors is voluntary. Unlike California vehicle standards that seek to directly restructure market shares within industries, voluntary incentive programs provide flexibility in case other adaptations need to be made as new program goals are met, or missed. Emanuel and others across the region understand that environmental goals and business goals can work in tandem
State and local government agencies, such as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in this fleet management example, can help spur innovation through free market competition. The late Milton Friedman often said: “The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that’s why it’s so essential to preserving individual freedom.”
Emanuel’s office describes the truck-fleet voucher program as “the most innovative program of this kind in the nation.” Now, in Chicago, truck companies can apply these new vouchers toward vehicles that are better for the environment. Ultimately, local consumers involved in transportation and logistical support can determine if the benefits outweigh any transition costs with any new vehicle.
Similarly, parents should be able to receive school tuition vouchers that will improve educational options for their children. Imagine the positive change that an education voucher program could make. Kids should be able to attend the schools that best fit their needs. No child should be trapped in a failing school just because of geography or financial circumstance. The Chicago truck vouchers may help congestion and urban planning needs over a decade. Education alternatives would help change lives for generations.
It is not simply the government’s responsibility to encourage free markets. Tuition assistance, much like merit-based and need-based scholarships, can be offered by private citizens through community partnerships with creative financing. Over the last few years, the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, a program of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, has connected more than 2,000 needy families with tuition scholarships within our city. This model can and should be replicated throughout the country.
Again, I turn to Chicago as a place where something exciting and innovative is happening. There, Mayor Emanuel is upgrading the Windy City’s seriously lacking infrastructure. He’s doing so not solely with public funds, but also via the Infrastructure Trust, a non-profit that uses private investments for public projects. This public-private partnership plan may help move Chicago’s important projects along despite the bureaucratic tendencies common with most agencies. Already, the Infrastructure Trust plans to fund $225 million to retrofit city buildings so they are more energy-efficient. That’s just for starters.
Emanuel’s truck-fleet vouchers and the Infrastructure Trust are two examples of creative solutions for our nation’s most vexing, pressing problems. We owe it to our children to take an equally innovative look at education. Education options that give parents and taxpayers the full benefit of true choice – can make a real difference for the next generation. We should not need to wait for the Windy City to take the lead. It’s time to have this discussion nationwide.