IWF Senior Fellow Vicki Alger, who is also a research fellow at the Independent Institute, was featured last week at IWF's "The Future Is Now" panel on school choice and education reform (along with Heritage's Lindsey Burke, SAVE's Edward Bartlett with IWF's Sabrina Schaeffer moderating).

In the wake of the panel, Vicki has a must-read blog at the Independent Institute's website on the issues discussed Thursday evening (in what turned out to be one of the best conversations I'veever  heard on education reform–thanks to the participants and an especially well-informed audience). Vicki writes:

The core issue of this public policy debate is not about money. It’s about competing visions over who has the right and responsibility for the education and upbringing of children.

Vicki spoke in particular about the recently-developed school choice program in Arizona, one of the most extensive in the nation:

The concept behind Arizona’s ESA program is simple. Parents who don’t prefer public district or charter schools simply inform the state, and 90 percent of the state base funding that would have gone to a public school is deposited into a child’s ESA instead. That amount would be approximately $5,600 for each non-disabled student. Students from low-income families would receive 100 percent of the state base funding.

ESA funds may be used to pay school tuition, textbooks, online courses, tutoring, special education therapies, and other education expenses. Regular expense reporting and auditing help ensure ESA funds are used as intended, and parents can roll over unused funds for future education expenses.

Most importantly, putting parents in charge of their children’s education funding empowers them to choose not just where but how their children are educated, which allows an unprecedented level of customization in children’s education.

Such customization is a far cry from the one-size-fits-all vision animating the US Department of Education. Parental choice programs also challenge the notion of who the real education experts are: far-off government bureaucrats or children’s parents.

That in a nutshell is the real education debate—not money, since parental choice programs offer families education options that are far less costly than public schools.

Needless to say, there were predictions of catastrophe, as public schools were "starved" by allowing parents not to be captive consumers of their products. But the money argument, says Vicki, has always been a diversion. The real issue is control. She quotes Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb:

Instead, the debate is rooted in different views of the role of government in educating children. The government, through the coercive power of taxation, establishes a central pool of resources for the education of students.

Vouchers supporters believe that the pool should be used to provide the best educational opportunity for each child as determined by their parents. A proportionate share of the common pool should be available irrespective of whether that choice is a district, charter or private school. The focus should be on what is best for each child individually.

Voucher opponents believe that some children should be used by the government as sociological chess pieces. Their access to the common pool should be limited to the schools voucher opponents believe they should be attending, even if their parents believe it is suboptimal.

Read all of Vicki's post.