Civitas Embraces Redistribution?

RALEIGH – A rhetorical back and forth has developed between some Moore County Tea Party activists and the Civitas Institute’s Bob Luebke on the issue of the Personal Education Savings Accounts (PESA), and whether or not supporting the PESA policy amounts to support for redistribution welfare inconsistent with Conservatism and worthy of rebuke.

Under the PESA program a “parent or legal guardian is provided a bank account to hold scholarship funds for an eligible student to be used for qualifying education expenses. Recipients will receive quarterly deposits for a total not to exceed $9,000 per year.”

Luebke has written pieces in support of the program, but the Moore Tea Citizens have a problem with the supposedly limited government think tank’s support of such direct payments of one taxpayer’s money to someone else’s bank account.

“The NCGA just created a new welfare program and Bob Luebke is promoting it on the Civitas Website. The program uses the NC tax system to take money from North Carolinians with their own financial struggles and family heartache, and gives it to the selected group of families with “special needs.”


Civitas’ public mission statement: “The Civitas Institute fights to remove barriers to freedom so that all North Carolinians can enjoy a better life,” so it seems Civitas has adopted the Progressive definition of “freedom.””

Luebke did not take kindly to the accusation and unleashed a comprehensive (and patronizing) review of the role education plays in the N.C. Constitution, and how ‘freedom of choice’ in education gives some the right to others’ money as intimated in said constitution. Perhaps this makes more sense from an institution considering a more middle of the road Republican like McCrory to take the reigns at Civitas?

“Redistributional welfare? Not a chance. Moore Tea bloggers seem to forget that the North Carolina State Constitution (Article IX) lays out the state’s obligation to provide a free and uniform system of public education for all students. The statement is clear. How education is to be financed and delivered are the only real questions and the legislature has say over how those are answered.”


It is important to note that the PESA program is largely targeted on students who are already in the public schools. PESA offers those children, an opportunity at a better education. This is a key difference between parental choice and welfare programs. Welfare programs are redistributive. Money is taken from those who have and given to the have-nots. Parental choice programs give parents choices on where they can send their child for a better education. However, the money will be spent regardless of where the parents decide to send the child to school.”

For starters, both arguments seem to ring true in divergent ways.

Taking money from one individual by force, and giving it – literally depositing it into the bank account of – another is by definition a redistribution of income, or ‘redistribution welfare.’ However, the N.C. Constitution does enshrine ‘education for all’ in law in such a way that redistribution is necessary for its exercise.

Luebke points out how the financing and delivery of education are the ‘only real questions’ to be considered and the General Assembly has authority to answer these.

Is that not exactly the point? Is $9,000 a year to a flexible bank account not a direct delivery of financing related to education? The question is should we be doing that.

Moore County Tea Citizens does not think so, and is arguing the legislature should use its clear authority to not redistribute taxpayer funds for education in this way.

Further, Luebke’s explanation, after using the constitutional mandate as a foundation, qualifies the $9,000 payment from one person not as “money..taken from those who have and given to the have-nots,” because it gives `parents a choice in seeking a better education.’

In other words, one parent’s need for better choices trumps your right to your money, especially when it comes to education. This is ‘good redistribution’…or, maybe, ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ in Luebke’s eyes.

Drilling down into the constitutional article Luebke cites, is Sec. 6, State School Fund which states that all moneys raised “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

Though the $9,000 redistribution in the name of education, it is not money being used ‘exclusively’  to establish and maintain a uniform public school system. As such, a conservative think tank should oppose it, not champion it according to the Moore County constituents.

Then again, perhaps the whole notion of how best to achieve the most effective and lowest cost education of our youth, as is currently mandated, should be revisited as it relates to the State’s monopolization of education.

Free market principles, when applied to education, would likely yield the most effectual results at market clearing prices that better satisfy the mandate in the end.

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