Draft Text for a State Constitutional Amendment to End the Education Wars


If the United States could adopt the educational regime of any country in the world, I would not choose Finland or Singapore or South Korea.

I would choose the Netherlands.


In 1917, the Dutch had a national education battle about what types of schools deserve public funding.

This battle, as well as other policy battles, was settled with a constitutional amendment which was passed during what is known as the “Pacification of 1917.”

The constitutional amendment established a fundamental right to open a school and receive pubic funding.

What a remarkable way to end the education wars!


Since the Pacification of 1917, the Dutch government has built a set of regulations to manage the implementation of the constitutional amendment.

Depending on where you are on the freedom axis, you might find these regulations reasonable or tyrannic.

I find some of them to be reasonable (national academic objectives) and some not (negotiating teacher salaries at the national level).

The Dutch have blazed one trail on how to regulate the freedom to open publicly funded schools; surely, other experiments would teach us much.


So here is proposed text for a state constitutional amendment in the United States of America:

“The right to found a school or enroll in a school shall not be abridged by government or any entity receiving government funding. All schools that meet basic education standards shall receive public funding based on a per-pupil allotment that is weighted based on student need and uniform across schools.”


I don’t think every state in the United States of America should pass this amendment.

But I think it would be great if a few states did.

I imagine each state would blaze its own path in determining how to manage a system where citizens had a constitutional right to open schools and where families had a constitutional right to choose amongst these schools.

I also think this approach – passing a constitutional amendment – has much more moral and legal force than pushing for ad hoc funding programs, such as education savings accounts or limited vouchers.

A right is a fundamental, a program is not.


Oh, and for whatever it’s worth, the Dutch rank number 10 in the world in student achievement based on the 2012 PISA results (they’re actually #7 if you throw out Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macau, which last time I checked aren’t countries).

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5 thoughts on “Draft Text for a State Constitutional Amendment to End the Education Wars

  1. David Osborne

    I understand your argument, but your amendment would allow parents to add their own money to the public per-pupil allotment. Slowly, we would create an education marketplace in which many people went to schools that cost the amount of the allotment, but many added money. There would be $10,000 schools, $15,000 schools, $20,000 schools, $25,000 schools, $30,000 schools, and beyond. This is already true, of course, but only about 10% of students go to private schools. Under your amendment, that number would skyrocket. And we would segregate education by income, much more than it already is. Equal opportunity would be a distant memory in public education, and inequality in our society would increase.

      1. David Osborne

        But now think about the politics of telling Americans they can’t add their own money to buy a better education for their children. That will never happen–it’s just not the American way. That’s why I think we should stand against any voucher approach targeted at more than the poor. Once a chunk of the middle class gets vouchers, the rest will demand them, and they will not tolerate being told they cannot use their own money to add to the voucher.

  2. matthewladner

    Mr. Osborne’s nightmare scenario under choice already exists in the public school system. Fancy public schools in leafy suburbs more closely resemble private luxury goods than public goods. I believe the answer to this lies neither in means testing nor in prohibiting topping off, but in providing significantly greater funds for low-income and otherwise disadvantaged children.

    1. David Osborne

      I would love that solution. The problem is, I don’t think it’s politically possible in this country. Can you name one other public service for which voters are willing to spend much more on the poor than on middle class people? You might say food stamps or welfare, but we don’t spend much on those, compared to education.
      David Osborne


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