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Right to Education

Is there a right to education? Who is and who should be responsible for public education? Should it be the government? the family? the marketplace?

It may surprise many of you to hear that nowhere in our federal constitution or Bill of Rights is public education or the right to public education mentioned. By 1870, however, most states had laid out such rights explicitly. Illinois’ constitution states these rights particularly strongly.


A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.

The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.



Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free.

Our two distinguished speakers for this program, James Anderson and Andrew Coulson, have very different answers to our initial questions.

James Anderson is Professor of Education, Head of the Department of Educational Policy Studies, and Professor of History at UIUC.



Andrew Coulson is Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of Market Education: The Unknown History

Although both speakers agree that a functioning democracy depends on an educated citizenry and that all children should have access to a quality education, they disagree about what the best method is to achieve these ends. James Anderson believes it is the state’s responsibility to make these goals possible and Andrew Coulson thinks a more efficient path to universal literacy is through the marketplace. They also differ on how we arrived at the current situation and how they would rate the state of American education today.

We invite you to send in questions that you would like them to address during this program. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed.

Program:  Is there a Right to Education follow-up

Listeners who want additional information about points made by each speaker can start by visiting the links to other web sites listed below.

Points Made by Andrew Coulson

1. He claimed that the Netherlands has an educational system that gives parents choice and provides more money for students who will be more expensive to educate.

The following websites provide more details.

The public school market in the Netherlands:
Money Follows the Child, Colin Fraser, writer for The Frontier Center for Public Policy, Winnipeg, Manitoba CANADA


2.  He points to Florida’s School Choice program as a successful model and cites a study by David Figlio.


3.  An organization that favors the libertarian point of view that government should not, if possible, be involved in education include http://networkforeducation.org/


Points made by Jim Anderson

1. San Antonio School District vs Rodriguez

In arguing that education is not a guaranteed right, Anderson cited the Rodriguez case (1973) in which the Supreme Court in a 5/4 decision found that education was not a fundamental right existing within the Constitution.


2. Prince Edward County, Virginia:
In arguing that public education can be seen a privilege granted by the states that states can rescind, Jim Anderson pointed to the 5 year closing of Virginia’s Prince Edward County public schools to avoid desegregation. Click on the following addresses for more details:



2. Patrick McEwan:
Andrew Coulson pointed to Chile as an example of choice on a national scale that works better than public education in the US. Jim Anderson pointed to Patrick McEwan’s work which casts doubt on these conclusions.

For more on Patrick McEwan’s work on Chile click here:  http://www.patrickmcewan.net/papers/chile

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