Over at today’s Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington calls for school choice! She comes at it from a far different starting place than I would, but her conclusion is not half bad.

In a single-payer health care plan, the federal government provides coverage for all U.S. citizens and legal residents. Patients don’t go to a government doctor — they just have the government pay the bill.

And that’s how it would work with education. In a single-payer education plan, the federal government, in conjunction with the states, would provide an education allotment for every parent of a K-12 child. Parents would then be free to enroll their child in the school of their choice.

In a single-payer health care plan, all citizens would be free to select the physician and hospital of their choice. And, unlike in our education system, no one backing single-payer health care ever suggested that patients can only see a doctor in their own district or can only be operated on at the hospital down the street. If we don’t hold people’s health hostage to the health of their property values, why do we do this with their children’s education?

The single-payer health plan would be financed by a payroll tax. In education, the annual cost per child — equalized for urban and suburban school districts across each state — would come from the current education funding sources.

When it comes to quality control, in health care the guidelines incorporated by Medicare would be used to manage the quality of health-care services. In education, the government would be responsible for accrediting the schools among which parents could choose.

It’s simple, sensible and, above all, just. And maybe instead of calling for an exorcist any time the words “competition,” “choice” or “freedom” are used in connection to education, we can start singing hosannas for an idea that preserves what is truly public in public education — the government, i.e. the public, paying for it — while allowing creativity, innovation and parental empowerment to flourish.

What Abraham Lincoln said in his second annual address to Congress in 1862 applies powerfully to today’s education crisis: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

And when it comes to saving out children, there is not a moment to waste.

There are a few small things I would note – public schools’ curriculums are often contentious, and there is a spirited debate whether national standards are the best way to measure a child’s learning. These issues are likely to persist as long as the government “accredits” schools from which parents may choose.

However, as schools around the country gear up for the 2009-2010 year, many students will be returning to unsafe and underperforming institutions. As a nation, we cannot in good conscience allow this to continue. Preventing disadvantaged students from obtaining a quality education threatens to create a permanent American underclass. And as my colleague Tatiana has said: “Every Child Deserves A Choice.”