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EDITORIAL: California law prohibits man from learning a trade

For adults with limited education, trade schools can provide a great way to learn skills and start a career. But a case in California reveals yet again how protectionist government regulation can stand in the way of such transformative opportunities.

The controvery involves a ranch hand named Esteban Narez who applied to study at Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, the only school of its kind in California. Mr. Narez had been working odd jobs with horses for five years, and a professional farrier said he’d hire him as an apprentice if he took the school’s eight-week course.

But Mr. Narez’s excitement soon gave way to frustration. The school was forced to deny his application because he hadn’t graduated high school.

Passed in 2009, California’s Private Postsecondary Act forces schools such as PCHS to require that prospective students have high school diplomas — or pass an equivalent government-approved test — before they can be admitted. The intent was to prohibit fly-by-night schools or “diploma mills” from pocketing government education loans to underqualified students.

But the school doesn’t even accept student loans. Mr. Narez planned to pay his own tuition.

Mr. Narez wasn’t the only one caught in this nonsense. PCHS owner Bob Smith received a notice from the state accusing him of violating state law by admitting students such as Mr. Narez.

The Institute for Justice — a nonprofit public-interest law firm based in Arlington, Va. — has filed a federal lawsuit against California on behalf of Mr. Smith and Mr. Narez. The institute’s attorneys argue that not only does Mr. Narez have a right to learn from Mr. Smith or whomever he chooses, but that blocking Mr. Smith from teaching students such as Mr. Narez violates the Constitution’s free speech protections.

The Institute for Justice seeks to push back against “this kind of paternalistic government censorship.”

“Just like publishing a how-to book or uploading an instructional video to YouTube is protected by the First Amendment, so is teaching,” says Keith Diggs, an attorney for the firm. “By limiting who Bob is allowed to teach and what Esteban is allowed to learn, California has not only harmed the students most in need of an education, but also violated their First Amendment rights.”

Mr. Narez seeks to expand his education in order to better provide for his family. Mr. Smith launched the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School to provide students such as Mr. Narez an alternative path to do just that. Any law that prevents someone from spending his own money to take classes that help him learn a skill is an affront to reason and common sense. California lawmakers should kill the statute. In the meantime, Mr. Smith and Mr Narez deserve to prevail.

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