Opinion: Hey kid, eat your rutabagas!

After years of languishing under the Gold Dome, school choice is gaining some real momentum in this legislative session. Perhaps it’s finally dawned on lawmakers that parents accustomed to making decisions about the other important aspects of their lives will greatly support more flexibility in how their children are educated.

With that momentum, though, comes renewed resistance from the status quoists of the educational establishment.

In a hearing this past week on Education Savings Accounts (the subject of my column last Sunday), one member of the establishment offered an instructive analogy — although I suspect it’s illuminating in a different way than he intended.

“I have no objection to individuals attending private school,” Jimmy Stokes, head of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, told members of the House education committee Wednesday. “They certainly are free to have that choice. If you don’t like the taste of rutabagas, you don’t have to eat them. But at the same time, you can’t make the grocer pay you not to eat them. And that’s basically what is transpiring with this bill.”

The oddity of comparing public schools to a vegetable many people would never eat is not what I find most revealing. At the risk of dwelling on what may have been an off-the-cuff remark, I think it’s quite indicative of how the establishment — not just Stokes — thinks about the issue.

In this view of the world, there are rutabaga farmers out there producing all the rutabagas our kids could ever eat. Don't ask if what kids really need are nutrients, or if rutabagas are nutritious enough. All kids everywhere will be fine if they just eat their rutabagas. Trust us.

If a kid wants something besides rutabagas, he must be a picky eater. It can’t be that he has a vitamin D deficiency the rutabagas don’t help with, or that rutabagas give him indigestion, or that the rutabagas on his plate are usually rotten. It can’t be that his parents think he’d be healthier with a diet of fruits or grains.

When it comes to kids’ health, the most important thing of all is to make sure all the grocery money goes to rutabaga farmers. If there are any problems, it’s probably because the price of rutabagas isn’t high enough.

That’s the way they see it. Here’s another way to look at it.

People pay nutrition taxes, often very high nutrition taxes, but their kids are only offered rutabagas. If they have a lot of money left over after paying taxes, they can buy other foods. In the end, though, most people choose to give their kids rutabagas, and they always will.

But some people’s kids need something else. Besides vitamin D deficiencies and all the other reasons for wanting something else to eat, the rutabagas are better in some stores than others. Some parents want to know why their nutrition taxes can’t pay for spinach, or bread, or fish. They aren’t asking the grocer to pay them a dime. They just want to be able to use nutrition tax revenues to buy something other than rutabagas.

Those of us who support school choice have often pointed out how ridiculous it would be to apply the way public education works to, say, the way we buy groceries. How wonderful to have occasion to make that point once more.