Coons and Sugarman called for ESAs-in 1978!!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Okay so yes it took us 33 years to figure out how to create ESAs after someone first proposed them, and yes we had to stumble into it. Don’t blame me- I was battling my Luke Skywalker action figure against my Stretch Armstrong, and well, er, better late than never! Ron Matus with a great post on Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman’s call for what we now call ESAs- in 1978. Here is a taste:

John E. “Jack” Coons and Stephen Sugarman didn’t use the term “education savings accounts” in their book, “Education by Choice.” But they described a sweeping plan for publicly funded scholarships in terms familiar to those keeping tabs on ESAs. They envisioned parents, including low-income parents, having the power to create “personally tailored education” for their children, using “divisible educational experiences.”

To us, a more attractive idea is matching up a child and a series of individual instructors who operate independently from one another. Studying reading in the morning at Ms. Kay’s house, spending two afternoons a week learning a foreign language in Mr. Buxbaum’s electronic laboratory, and going on nature walks and playing tennis the other afternoons under the direction of Mr. Phillips could be a rich package for a ten-year-old. Aside from the educational broker or clearing house which, for a small fee (payable out of the grant to the family), would link these teachers and children, Kay, Buxbaum, and Phillips need have no organizational ties with one another. Nor would all children studying with Kay need to spend time with Buxbaum and Phillips; instead some would do math with Mr. Feller or animal care with Mr. Vetter.

Coons and Sugarman were talking about education, not just schools, in a way that makes more sense every day. They wanted parents in the driver’s seat. They expected a less restricted market to spawn new models. In “Education by Choice,” they suggest “living-room schools,” “minischools” and “schools without buildings at all.” They describe “educational parks” where small providers could congregate and “have the advantage of some economies of scale without the disadvantages of organizational hierarchy.” They even float the idea of a “mobile school.” Their prescience is remarkable, given that these are among the models ESA supporters envision today.

Sounds very, very familiar eh?




3 Responses to Coons and Sugarman called for ESAs-in 1978!!

  1. Tunya Audain says:

    Choicelessness Leads To Flabby Families

    Certainly, the model of Education Savings Accounts as a way of ensuring education as a public good is overdue. Thankfully, both persuasion and budgetary realities are convincing legislators to release their tight controls over prescriptive education spending and to trust parents to make wise decisions using ESAs. The more jurisdictions (5 US states so far) that do this the better the chances of an educated public — people able to lead self-sufficient lives and participate in free democratic citizenship. Such is the yet-unproven promise of these new models. (We can be sure there are still considerable resistance and overt and covert opposition to ESAs. Good luck with the continuing effort!)

    Yes, the freeing up of the education dollar has had a long discussion over the decades. Coons and Sugarman did propose something along the lines of ESAs or vouchers way back in ’78. Now, I would like to bring forward more of Coons’ views as they relate to family policy as counter to persistent centralizing efforts.

    See this interview — School Choice as Family Policy: John E. Coons —

    Some short excerpts:

    “ [Choice as family policy] . . . is one of the most important things we could possibly do as therapy for the institution of the family, for which we have no substitute. The relationship between the parent and child is very damaged if the parent loses all authority over the child for six hours a day, five days a week, and over the content that is put into the child’s mind.”

    “What must it be like for people who have raised their children until they’re five years old, and suddenly, in this most important decision about their education, they have no say at all? They’re stripped of their sovereignty over their child.”

    “And what must it be like for the child who finds that his parents don’t have any power to help him out if he doesn’t like the school?”

    “It’s a shame that there are no social science studies on the effect of choicelessness on the family. If you are stripped of power—kept out of the decision-making loop—you are likely to experience degeneration of your own capacity to be effective, because you have nothing to do. If you don’t have any responsibilities, you get flabby. And what we have are flabby families at the bottom end of the income scale.”

    We won’t expect any sympathy or studies on lack of choice from the new Think Tank, Learning Policy Institute (Linda Darling-Hammond, Pres and CEO), will we? Yet one more “non-partisan” central command effort to keep families at arms-length from their children’s education.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Jack is awesome and I agree with what he has to say.

  3. Tunya Audain says:

    Yes, John E (Jack) Coons is awesome! Here he is at the age of 90, still bright and active in the cause of family choice. Look up “74 Interview: Law Professor John Coons”. He’s in good form as he repeats the message: “Extend choice, give it to everybody. Choice could save a good share of American families . . . make America less angry and unhappy with itself” Bless his soul, what an inspiration for us all not to give up!

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