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.
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.
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.