I have been reading many articles about vouchers and school choice recently, and what strikes me about many of these articles is that they have one overriding comment to make about public schools: they are failing. None of the articles I read, however, gave any evidence in support of that claim. Where is the proof? As an educator, do you feel that the students are failing because of the way you or your colleagues are teaching? Could the problem with public schools be related to society itself? I think the question is rhetorical. How many times have you as a teacher heard a comment like, "If I would have done that in school, my parents would have killed me!" Today, it is not uncommon to call a parent with a problem and get attacked. Recently, a colleague of mine called a parent about their child's cussing at her. The first question the parent asked was, "What did you do to cause her to say that?" So what does this lack of parental and community support have to do with vouchers? Everything. It seems to me that vouchers are the ultimate lack of support for public schools.
What are the arguments for vouchers?
You've heard them before! Here are just a few.
- A free educational marketplace would give public education something to compete against thereby increasing its standards.
- Low income students should have the same opportunities as everyone else.
- Students attending 'failing schools' should have the opportunity to attend schools that will allow them to succeed.
All of these arguments presuppose one thing: that the schools are the problem. Look at some of the best private schools. Why do they work? One big factor is that they can say 'NO!' They can set rules, require students to follow rules, and expel students who don't follow those rules. Is there parental support? I know of an example of a child who would be considered just rambunctious in public schools. He probably would not get much more than a trip to the principal's office. However, when a private school threatened to kick the child out, his parents were not willing to suffer that embarrassment! They had accepted the rules of the school. They realized the consequences, and they acted on them. What are the consequences in public schools? Hardly any.
Church and State
Does giving public money to religious schools violate the first amendment? It all depends on your reading of the constitution. The Supreme Court has ruled very broadly many times about the separation of church and state. Schools may not even hold a daily moment of silence because this violates the first amendment according to the Supreme Court. However, the Court has also ruled that giving Title I funds to religious schools does not violate church and state. In the court case Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court ruled that there was a three part test to determine if aid to parochial schools was constitutional. One part of that test was called the 'excessive entanglements' clause--the government cannot get into a situation that causes an excessive entanglement between church and state. Does giving tax money to Catholic or Islamic schools advance those religions? What if a religion course is required of every student? In Pensacola, Florida where two 'failing schools' were located in 2000, according to Florida's A+ plan, 58 students took advantage of vouchers and entered 4 Roman Catholic schools and a private school. Does this mean that a majority of these students are now being taught religion with taxpayer money? Ultimately, the Court will decide once again.
Want more information on vouchers? Check out some great links from your guide at the Vouchers Resources page.