Are School Vouchers The Next Great Civil Rights Issue?

Legal affairs hosted a debate on whether or not school vouchers are the next great civil rights issue. Clint Bolick, President and General Counsel for the Alliance for School Choice, took the affirmative and Laura Underkuffler, a professor at Duke Law School, took the negative. The debate can be found here and here.

Clint Bolick writes:

School choice gives disadvantaged families some of the clout that middle- and upper-income families have, through the power to exit the system. School choice provides an educational life preserver for children who desperately need it, and creates a competitive incentive for public schools to improve. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has found that wherever public schools are subjected to meaningful competition, they improve.

That has happened in Florida, where children in failing schools are offered scholarships to attend better-performing public schools or private schools. Only about 750 kids statewide have transferred to private schools, but their footsteps have reverberated across the state. Schools faced with failing grades—and the prospect of vouchers—are adopting reforms that they long have resisted, such as spending more money in the classroom rather than the bureaucracy, hiring tutors for failing students, moving to year-round schools, etc. The result has been dramatic academic improvement, especially among minority schoolchildren. The racial academic gap is narrowing in Florida like nowhere else.

Notice here that Clint gives both the theoretical and the practical arguments behind vouchers. Some people continue to argue that vouchers won’t work, that they will destroy the public school system, that they will benefit only some students, this and that, but they overlook the fact that vouchers, in one form or another, have already been implemented in various states around the country. And the clear results are success, success for all students, for public schools, and especially for those who need vouchers most, those students (who are primarily low income minorities) formerly trapped in inner city schools who now have options, options that they never had before. In addition, when these students exercise that option and go to other schools, the results are overwhelmingly positive. You now have students with higher chances of graduating, higher grades, and an overall better education and with that, a better future, all things they were deprived of before vouchers.

So who could argue with this? What possible argument could someone give to being against vouchers now? This is why Laura is against vouchers:

What if the private school chosen is one that reflects the teachings of a religious “cult”, or that teaches racial hatred, or the inferiority of girls and women, or the denial of civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation, or other values that are at odds with the fundamental principles of our society? The limitation often cited by choice advocates—that the school be required to accept all comers—will not solve the problems that such schools present. The issue is far more fundamental: do we want our tax dollars to fund such schools?

Throughout the debate, she focuses on the fear that truly abhorent beliefs will be adopted by new private schools. She alludes to racism, to sexism, to even terrorism, as examples of what future private schools may teach, without any possibility for the state to regulate, this is her main argument against vouchers. But Clint directly addresses her concerns.

He writes:

Society expresses itself through democratic processes, and so far those processes have produced school choice programs that achieve a balance between parental choice and mainstream educational objectives. Most states, for instance, require all private schools to adhere to a sequential program of core academic instruction. The Florida program forbids schools from requiring participation in religious activities. Cleveland’s excludes schools that advocate racial hatred.

Clint also responds that currently, higher education gives the very same freedom that vouchers would give to K-12 students. So, for decades we have already had a system that Laura fears, and none of what Laura claims will happen has happened. So if you accept this system with higher education, why should it be restricted with lower education? Especially when the stakes are so high. This is a response that Laura never addressed, even after Clint repeatedly asked her four times to address it.

So why do you think Laura is really against vouchers? It can’t really be a fear that schools will start to teach racism, or sexism, or hatred against the USA. Since, as the current Cleveland and Florida case shows, those types of schools can be easily banned in a voucher program. Afterall, what American would be against a ban on public money going to schools that teach racism? Or schools that teach sexism or hate? It would be easy to get citizen support to ban those schools.

What I think Laura truly fears from a voucher program is what many opponents of vouchers in general truly fear from vouchers. The real reason, IMHO, most many opponents of vouchers that know more than basic economics are still against vouchers is this, what Laura let slip in one of her responses.

She writes:

You argue that the fears of voters are unfounded, citing the ban on the teaching of racial hatred in the Cleveland voucher plan. This is fine as far as it goes. But how far does it go? The problems involved in interpreting and enforcing such a ban are obvious. (What is “racial hatred”? Does it include “racial inferiority” and other ideas?) Even more telling is what this ban does not include. It does not attempt to prohibit the teaching of religious intolerance, or the teaching of the subordination of women, or the teaching of the denial of gay rights. (emphasis added)

While one can be assured that the American public will not tolerate racism, sexism and national hatred, what they will tolerate is mainstream religious teachings that speak against gay marriage, or abortion, and many other views the secular left holds dear, and this, Laura, and many voucher opponents, can’t tolerate.

That is right my friends. Their true fear with vouchers is not that they won’t work, but they will work, too well. In other words, they have the fear that several of these parents in poor areas, given the choice, will take their kids to religious schools like Catholic private schools, and get (gasp!!) Christianized.

Given a choice between A. giving children stuck in the ghetto a good education, an education that gives them a real chance to escape poverty, but at the same time allowing the possibility that they may become Christianized, or B. Having them remain in a secular environment, but one that robs them of a proper education thereby dooming them to a life of failure, Laura and her ilk would choose B!!

This is yet another reason why I am a strong conservative. With ‘friends’ like the above, who needs enemies?

AConstrainedVision has more.

13 Responses to “Are School Vouchers The Next Great Civil Rights Issue?”


  • i’ll try posting again, but just so you know i was blocked last time.

    i’m sort of torn on this one. on one hand it would have been nice if my parents would have had help or vouchers in paying for my catholic h.s. education. i was sent there because of my limited public school options, for starters the neighborhood h.s. in my attendance area was on the side of the gang boundry that i did not live in (that alone spelled trouble for me and then it was a school that encouraged its latino and black students to take up trades instead of attend college) 2) i didn’t make it into the other public h.s. in the city because they didn’t pull my number in their lottery system. so i attended my first two years of h.s. with bigoted nuns and we paid them big bucks to teach me. and that’s were i become torn. vouchers funding a catholic high school does not seem like a separation of church and state to me. why not take the vouchers and just provide more PUBLIC school options for students. the new high school in our neighborhood is just about to open this fall–and believe me its long overdue.

  • Excellent post, HP! This sort of debate and analysis of the voucher issue is sorely needed in our country. Needless to say, I believe that school choice is the most important civil rights issue at this moment in our history.

  • Sorry about the comments guys, I am going to try and get that fixed this weekend.

    Irasali,

    School choice does not violate the ‘seperation of Church and state’ issue because, as the debate mentions,

    “As an attorney, I ought to add that the constitutionality of school choice was definitively resolved in 2002 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The court reasoned that so long as religious schools are only one of various options, and no public money is spent in religious schools except at the direction of parents, it does not violate the prohibition against establishment of religion”.

    In other words, it is ultimately the parents who decide where to send their kids.

    As far as why not allowing just public schools, well again, that gets down to competition. There isn’t enough of them to truly make vouchers compete. This is how Clint answered it,

    “The idea of public school choice is terrific—I support it. Unfortunately, it won’t solve the problem. In many cities, the round-trip to the suburbs would take hours. Separating children from their neighborhoods means separating parents from participation in their children’s schools—which researchers agree is the most important factor in student achievement. There aren’t enough good schools in the suburbs anyway; and the ugly political reality is that many suburban voters do not want inner-city children coming to their schools. Nor do inner-city parents want to send their children there: They want the same thing as all parents want, which is a good school in their own neighborhood. The fact that it may be religiously affiliated should not be a basis for denying it to children whose future may depend on it. “

  • I’m sort of taken aback about your assumption that those that are against vouchers are anti-religion. By no means should you be left with that impression. I’m sure that there are many Catholic Democrats like me that feel that vouchers are not the solution. Public education was created in efforts to educate all and not only the elite. It is true that with the passing of time the formula has changed. However, there has been progress by both sides (Dem & Rep) in order to remedy the situation. Now let’s go back to vouchers. You pasted Clint’s comments in response to Irasali’s feedback to your posting:

    “The idea of public school choice is terrific—I support it. Unfortunately, it won’t solve the problem. In many cities, the round-trip to the suburbs would take hours. Separating children from their neighborhoods means separating parents from participation in their children’s schools—which researchers agree is the most important factor in student achievement. There aren’t enough good schools in the suburbs anyway; and the ugly political reality is that many suburban voters do not want inner-city children coming to their schools. Nor do inner-city parents want to send their children there: They want the same thing as all parents want, which is a good school in their own neighborhood. The fact that it may be religiously affiliated should not be a basis for denying it to children whose future may depend on it. “

    I’m having trouble buying this. In my opinion he is basically giving us additional reasons why we should invest in public schools. The majority of the essays I found online FOR vouchers usually highlight sending impoverished kids to private schools. Here in metro-Detroit the cost of sending a child to a private elementary school is $17,000 a year. That is more than the current rate of $9,000 to Detroit public schools. So, in this example there would have to an increase in taxes/education funds to actually pay for these kids to go to those schools. We take out the private sector completely and focus on parochial schools. Again, in Detroit the parochial schools did not fair any better than the public schools. So now what options are left for students in Detroit? They are basically left with the short-hand of the stick.
    Oh Dear! I just opened the flood gates to HP and followers ;) HAHAHA

  • Hey Julissa,

    Thanks for stopping by. First off, you’re right, I didn’t mean to imply that everybody who is against vouchers are against them for the same anti-Catholic reasons that Laura is in the debate. I meant to imply that there are a many who are against them precisely because of some anti-Catholic bias. Not all, not most, but many. I will fix the bad impression above, thanks for bringing it up.

    Now, onto our discussion, you write,

    Here in metro-Detroit the cost of sending a child to a private elementary school is $17,000 a year. That is more than the current rate of $9,000 to Detroit public schools. So, in this example there would have to an increase in taxes/education funds to actually pay for these kids to go to those schools. We take out the private sector completely and focus on parochial schools. Again, in Detroit the parochial schools did not fair any better than the public schools. So now what options are left for students in Detroit? They are basically left with the short-hand of the stick”.

    First off, lets assume for the moment that you’re right, that there would be nobody, even given the voucher, who can afford to send their kids to another school. Even if that was the case, than why still oppose vouchers? In other words, vouchers, at their very worse, hurt nobody. Even assuming worse case scenerio, nobody goes anywhere and everything stays the same, with only the theoretical option of being allowed to go to some other schools. So again, even in worse case, vouchers should still be allowed.

    But reality is never, never even close to worse case when it comes to free markets. Certainly there are some, maybe one or two students here and there, who if only their parents had a few more hundred dollars extra a month, they could send their kids to another school, and so vouchers would still be good for them. So there is more positive here, especially for those kids on the margin.

    Another point, most of the time schools don’t need vouchers to be implemented for them to improve, all they need is the real posibility, the real threat, of vouchers actually being implemented. For example, check out this study by Caroline Huxby, economist at Harvard University.

    The study shows:

    Public schools do respond constructively to competition, by raising their achievement and productivity. The best studies on this question examine the introduction of choice programs that have been sufficiently large and long-lived to produce competition. Students’ achievement generally does rise when they attend voucher or charter schools. The best studies on this question use, as a control group, students who are randomized out of choice programs. Not only do currently enacted voucher and charter school programs not cream-skim; they disproportionately attract students who were performing badly in their regular public schools.

    So again, even worse case scenario, there are still great advantages to supporting vouchers.

    But here, let me address certain points that I think are missing from this worse case scenario. Eventually, what will happen is, if there are many parents with vouchers and not enough schools to take them, what will happen is what happens in ALL industries where there are customers who financially demand a product and the product is not currently there. What will happen is the entrepreneurs will come in and provide that product. Remember, under a voucher system, there is now nothing stopping say, Bill Gates from opening up a “Gates School For The Poor” right in my old hometown of Compton California. There is nothing stopping me either, from going back to Compton and opening up a school where I could pass on some of the stuff I learned at UC San Diego and giving back to the community. In other words, if there is a demand and people have a voucher to pay for it, there
    will be a supply, just like in all privatized industries. So you’re not counting future schools that can open and will open if vouchers were implemented and the demand was not met.

    And lastly, one can always fight for more funding for vouchers. I mean, we’ve wasted billions on an educational system that basically gave us zero in return, so I don’t see why it would be wrong to now spend billions on an education system that does give us something in return.

    So again, I don’t think your objections address the core of vouchers. Vouchers remember, at their core, are not about how much money parents are going to get, their not about how many schools their currently are, their not even about moving kids to different districts, vouchers, at their core are about competition. They are about bringing in competition, and with competition, accountability with real consequences, into a system that has never had any before. Opponents of vouchers are in the difficult position of having to defend a monopoly, indeed a monopoly of the worse kinds, a government monopoly, against a private run market based system. Who could argue that? I thought we solved this debate a long time ago with the fall of communism; free markets, private enterprises, are dramatically more efficient than government run monopolies, and they benefit everybody more. So why not bring in competition to one of the last government monopolies left? The children could certainly use it….

  • My experience as far as the main difference in the quality of education between parochial schools and public schools is the fact that parochial schools can and do expell trouble-making and failing students rather quickly. While in Public Schools it takes a whole legnthy drawn out process to expell a student.

    I can tell you from my own personal experience that the worst and most disruptive students in my school at one point were expelled from a private school.

    It is really easy to be successful when you can weed out the low end of the spectrum.

    Will a private school be forced to accept less than the cream of the crop in accepting taxpayer money for education, or will these at-risk students all be left in even-more poorly funded public schools with only other poorly performing students, with no hope in improving the quality of the education.

  • Hey Michael,

    It is more than that. I just finished re-reading, “No Excuses : Closing the Racial Gap in Learning” by Abigail Thernstrom. She is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, and a vice-chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights. She goes over many things that make a good school work, including working longer hours and times of the year, giving schools a free reign on who to hire, and fire, and many other things that public schools currently don’t do.

    All of these things are things that come rather easily in the private sector, but in a government run monopoly, especially one controlled by unions, becomes much more difficult. The only way to break that, is through privatization.

  • I clicked on the link, and it seems to not work.

    As far as school districts suffering goes, it is only the very inefficient school districts that will go bad, and they won’t disappear, they will be replaced by efficient school districts.

    So except for really bad teachers, everybody wins. Good teachers, good schools, bad schols that later get replaced with good schools, and especially the students.

  • err, that link worked for me. its not a pretty sight…..

  • YUCK!!! Disgusting!!!

    That guy must be a spammer, I am deleting his comment now…

  • Sorry about that Irasali, before when I clicked on it, it said something about expired access or something, definitely not what I just saw.

  • Ok, I’m back. I finally can say that you make a good case and I’m actually thinking about vouchers as being good . Of course, I can’t help but press on for more information. You mention the following – “And lastly, one can always fight for more funding for vouchers. I mean, we’ve wasted billions on an educational system that basically gave us zero in return, so I don’t see why it would be wrong to now spend billions on an education system that does give us something in return.”
    Wouldn’t we begin the cycle again? Let me explain. Private schools have this sort of autonomy when it comes to administration. And we shall say that it’s because of that autonomy that is what makes them desireable. If we begin funneling more money into these private schools we will find that they will grow and so will the desire of parents for more funds – creating a dependancy. And as I see it from my point of view the number one problem with education is parental involvement. When is the responsibility going to lie with the parent for taking an active role in a child’s education? A child that doesn’t have that support at home will not succeed in public nor private for that matter.

  • Julissa,

    Glad to hear, vouchers to me, is the 600 lb gorilla in all of this. It is the MAIN reason why I am conservative. In fact, I believe in it so strongly, that I would vote for a Democrat if s/he were for vouchers and the Republican was not, even if the Democrat had all the other beliefs I don’t like about Democrats, and the Republican had all the other beliefs I do like about Republicans, for there is no greater mechanism to get our people out of the ghetto than education, and there is nothing more promising than vouchers, when it comes to education.

    Please do read more on vouchers, you will be surprised, as I was, at how void the arguments are against it, and also, I have alot of stuff on it under the ‘education’ link on the bottom right hand side of my website, feel free to check them out.

    Now, back to our discussion…

    You write,

    Wouldn’t we begin the cycle again? Let me explain. Private schools have this sort of autonomy when it comes to administration. And we shall say that it’s because of that autonomy that is what makes them desireable. If we begin funneling more money into these private schools we will find that they will grow and so will the desire of parents for more funds – creating a dependancy.

    I see your concern, but remember, this is more than just parents with vouchers and existing private schools, because with vouchers, even public schools will become, by definition, private schools, so this is now a free market like any other market. So because this is a free market system, there will definitely be a downward pull on how much vouchers need to rise to have some real competition.

    Remember, the higher a voucher rises, the more incentives there are for other entrepreneurs to come in and open up a school for cheaper. So there is a sort of negative feedback going on here. What will eventually happen, is some equilibrium will be established, where vouchers don’t need to rise anymore, because of the level of entrepreneurs, and true competition will have been met. This is how it is in all free markets. For example, the telephone company, after its monopoly power was removed, was now unable to keep raising and raising rates, because the higher the rates, the more incentives there were for other companies to come in and provide the same service cheaper, thereby cutting into their profits. SO eventually an equilibrium is met, and that is what we sort of have now. Same will be true with schools.

    This is very different than our current system where there is no negative feedback. We keep pouring billions and billions into programs that have given us nothing in return, and there is no ceiling in sight.

    However, on a somewhat related topic, you bring up an important factor, you write,

    “And as I see it from my point of view the number one problem with education is parental involvement. When is the responsibility going to lie with the parent for taking an active role in a child’s education? A child that doesn’t have that support at home will not succeed in public nor private for that matter.”

    I completely agree here. While there has been research showing that vouchers also increases parental involvement (afterall, you are now allowing them to have the greatest say in their childs education – choosing which school), I agree with you in principle. There is only so much that the infrastructure can do for children, and the vast amount of progress and work is to be done in the home.

    I’m conservative remember? My main focus, my main point of attack, has always been the personal responsibility side, it has always been family, culture, and environment related, than it has been on the infrastructure.

    However, it is undeniable that public schools, especially public schools in our areas, are greatly lacking, and for that, albeit limited, problem, vouchers have the greatest promise.

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