Public funding in the private sector

By Mississippi Center for Public Policy
June 23, 2022

Public money, according to many on the left, should not be spent on private education.

Only the other day, here in Mississippi a lawsuit was filed by Parents for Public Schools, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and others, claiming that allocating public funds to private schools violated the Mississippi Constitution.

The lawsuit specifically challenges legislation passed during the 2022 legislative session that awarded $10 million of pandemic relief funds to K-12 private schools and $10 million to private colleges and universities in the state.

The lawsuit cites that our state constitution outlaws “any funds…to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.”

This local lawsuit seems to be part of a wider move by many of the left across America to attack the idea of spending public money on private education providers. A few moments of reflection reveal how absurd an idea this really is.

Every week, many Americans on low incomes receive food stamps. This allows them to buy the provisions that they need to feed themselves and their families. Does anyone really suggest that food stamps should only be redeemed in government-owned and operated grocery stores? Of course not.

This year, the Department of Defense will commission contracts with private technology companies and defense contractors worth billions. According to a 2021 study by the Brown University Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, one-third to one-half of the $14 trillion the military spent since 9/11 went to private contractors. According to the logic used by the left when it comes to education, these contracts should only ever be awarded to government-run businesses.

Medicaid provides health services for those with low incomes. But Medicaid does not insist that those covered by the program only use government-owned hospitals. On the contrary, it allows privately-owned clinics and hospitals to provide health care, without which millions of Americans not be treated at all. Does anyone on the left suggest that Medicaid is somehow unconstitutional?

The principle of spending public funds on private education providers is well established. The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act allows Mississippi parents to send children with special needs to private schools in the state. The Mississippi Department of Education, an agency funded by taxpayers, even allows for public spending in private entities. The Child Care Payment Program provides tuition to Mississippi parents for pre-schooling, giving parents the freedom to choose any child-care program in the state, most of which are privately-owned facilities.

Having public funds going to pay private providers can help ensure that those public funds are used effectively. Without the involvement of the private sector, our country – and our state – would be much worse off.

Why then is the left attempting to challenge the idea of using public money for private providers when it comes to schools?

It is a measure of the left’s intellectual weakness and moral bankruptcy. Alarmed at growing pressure across America to reform education funding so that we fund students, not systems, the left is painting itself into a corner. To try to head off the implications of education funding reform, the left wants to ensure that your kid’s tax dollars can only ever be spent in the public education system. Let’s hope that they fail.


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