BACKGROUNDER: Article 8 and our ‘Common’ Schools

February 15, 2011

(Feb. 15, 2011) — Over 60 percent of the 2011 Indiana budget is going to whatever politicians and their lobbyists call “education.” Over the past several decades, the percentage of those billions that gets to the classroom has dropped to less than 60 percent. 

Our embarrassingly high percentage of administrative buildings and personnel, and the absurd cost of sports programs that serve a tiny percentage of elite students, is inexcusable as average students get fat and fall behind their overseas peers. American schooling is by far the most expensive, and among the least effective, in the world.

So it’s fine that there’s been talk of school funding, teachers’ unions, pensions, student nutrition and the taxation and spending rules that we’re told have something to do with learning. Yet amidst all the chatter over vouchers, Charter Schools, “investment in our future” and, of course, sports, I’ve so far heard nothing that is both workable and legal.

It is suspicious that Article 8 of Indiana’s Constitution appeared on the last day of the 1851 constitutional convention without a word of debate. The person who transcribed the article (perhaps he wrote it himself?) was Robert Owen, Jr., son of the New Harmony commune’s founder, and ally of the “progressive” educator, Horace Mann. Yet commie plot or not, the Indiana Constitution’s Article 8, Section I, does now “provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

The constitution and historical context are unmistakable. “Common Schools” were the uniform (as in identical) system of tax-subsidized schools promoted by Mann as the “ladder of opportunity” to educate poor children and educate them without religious influences. And Common Schools are not compulsory; parents are free to choose non tax-funded alternatives. And the phrase, “tuition shall be without charge,” has been clarified many times over the years as meaning only tuition. So legally, even poor parents must find money for books, lunch, transportation and in fact everything but tuition. Sports were certainly not part of school. Besides, that’s what parks and public gymnasiums were for: So that even children who weren’t in school had something to do.

Article 8, Section 2 mandates a Common School Trust Fund derived from corporate taxes and other statewide sources that forbid any local funding, like personal property tax, because we don’t need the brute force of politics to achieve inequality between rich and poor areas. In fact, Article 4, Section 22 says, “The General Assembly shall not pass local or special laws … Providing for the support of common schools, or the preservation of school funds.”

Of course Article 8 wasn’t necessary. There already was a rapidly developing system of “Free and Fee” schools, but almost all of the tuition-free schools were run by churches. Churches had been America’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare before we gave everything unto Caesar and his non-voluntary collection plate. However, churches are, as you have no doubt heard, religious. And Article I, Section 6 of the new constitution decreed that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”

In summary, both state and federal constitutions forbid politicians and bureaucrats the monopoly power over education they now exert. And though many of us are opposed to any socialized education on moral, religious and practical grounds, Indiana’s original socialists came up with a far more reasonable scheme than what we’ve devolved to now.

Maybe online education from India and China could break our governments’ unconstitutional, monopolistic stranglehold, and drop the now crazy costs.  I hope so.  It would be the best thing to happen to Hoosier children in decades.  I wish I could be the one to sell it. — Andy Horning


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