The landmark US Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana striking down so-called Blaine Amendments in 38 states, including Colorado, has removed a stubborn obstacle to school choice. Driven by anti-Catholic bias over a century ago, the amendments banned the use of state funds to support religiously-affiliated parochial schools.
The Espinoza decision reinforced an earlier SCOTUS ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) that upheld a Cleveland school-voucher program providing government financial assistance to needy families. The court ruled the program was neutral towards religion as it favored no particular religion and that the funding reached religious schools indirectly through the free and independent choice of eligible families. It further declared that individuals were merely exercising choice among options public and private, secular and religious, thus constitutional.
Opposition to school choice in Colorado today isn’t actually based on anti-Catholic or anti-religious sentiment. Invoking our Blaine Amendment was just a cynical legal device of self-interested teachers unions to protect their monopoly on the delivery of education in publicly-funded schools. Now, Espinoza has reopened the prospect of true school choice in Colorado, and other states, through publicly-funded vouchers redeemable at private schools. Predictably, that’s generated the same contrived, shop-worn objections to vouchers from the unions and their liberal political allies. Allow me to rebut a few.
“Money will be diverted to religious schools.” So what? The Supremes have finally settled the legal squabble, although taxpayer dollars have long been used for tuition at religious colleges for military veterans and to others through federally-funded grants and loans.
“Vouchers will drain money from public schools.” That’s misleading. Public funding for compulsory education is intended to educate children, not limit venues. So why should it be confined exclusively to government schools? The same purpose is served if students are taught in private schools, and arguably better so, with the money dedicated to their education simply following the students there. If large numbers of parents were to choose private schools for their kids, the remaining public schools would need fewer teachers, administrators, buses and buildings, hence less money.
“Vouchers are a subsidy for wealthy parents whose children already attend private schools.” There are plenty of non-wealthy parents sacrificing to send their kids to private schools who would benefit from vouchers. Those parents, and wealthy ones alike, now subsidize public schools with their taxes while relieving public schools of the cost burden of educating their kids. With or without vouchers, the wealthy can afford private schools for their kids. A means-tested voucher program, that excluded the wealthy, would allow many more parents, especially the poor, to choose that option.
“Academic studies show that private and charter schools don’t produce better results than public schools.” Then why do parents pay extra to send their kids to private schools? And why do inner-city minorities sign up on long waiting lists and for charter school lotteries to desperately rescue their kids from failing public schools? Are they foolish? Or are such studies crafted by teachers colleges tendentiously biased, working backwards from a predetermined conclusion to discredit and demean the competition? Dueling studies from voucher supporters draw opposite results.
Teachers colleges are the pipeline for public school unionized labor. And they’re the wellspring of bad ideas in education philosophy and technique from “new math” to “look-say” reading. Despite one wrongheaded experiment after another, they’re deaf to the complaints of parents–education customers–who they disrespect.
“Public schools homogenize society; they’re the mortar that holds the community together.” If that’s the case they’re failing miserably as our society is being torn apart. And the “homogenization” is on their political terms, steeped in progressive ideology and a subversive agenda that is rotting the mortar.
One approach doesn’t serve all in public education. Some of us prefer a school that teaches rigorous, basic academics; Standard English, spelling, grammar and syntax; traditional math; the Constitution; civics; free-market economics; individual liberty; pride in a mostly (but not entirely) positive presentation of American history; promotes patriotism, encourages entrepreneurship; assigns homework; enforces discipline and a respect for teachers. Oh, and competitive sports with scores, winners and losers; not “participation ribbons.” Like the way a private school we’d select does.
Progressive parents and Bernie Bros prefer schools dedicated to social engineering, multiculturalism, political correctness, collective learning, unmerited self esteem, no letter grades, social promotion, mandatory community service, socialism and radical-leftist Howard Zinn’s America-hating textbook, “A People’s History of the United States.” Like the way most public schools are now.
With school choice, we and others could get what we like. That’s why they oppose it.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.