Free at last?

While the Supreme Court decision on vouchers was a great achievement, there’s still a long way to go. I covered a Pew Forum panel discussion on the impact of the court’s decision Friday, and the anti-voucher folks did not just throw up their hands and say, “Well, I guess it’s over then.”

They’re going to fight any voucher plan in the states, arguing that even if it doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution, it violates the state constitution’s establishment clause. They are going to fight school choice on the merits, grasping at any argument — such as the Edison schools fiasco — to prop up thegovernment-school monopoly.

Chuck Karczag makes an excellent point regarding anti-choice rhetoric:

“Ah!” the critics contend, “but 96.6% of parents send their kids to parochial schools.” Therefore the primary effect of this voucher

scheme is to send fresh bodies to parochial schools, thereby aiding Religion, thereby being unconstitional. What a load of crap. Parents send their children to the religious schools for 2 reasons: 1)Religious schools are more affordable and 2) they do a better job.

Now, here’s the interesting part: if vouchers were provided at funding levels anywhere comparable to the per-student government school funding, then private, non-religious schools would flourish. So, if you’re really concerned about tons of poor kids being brainwashed into religous belief, then you would have to conclude that a higher valued voucher would be constitutional. But should we expect to see voucher opponents switch to a “show me the money” approach, demanding reasonably-valued vouchers as a second-best choice to none at all?

Don’t hold your breath.

An argument I heard advanced on Friday a government-school defender was that public schools were being held to strict standards enforced by the federal government and state governments while private schools provided no “accountability.” Huh? Unlike government schools, private schools are directly accountable to parents, who — with the power of a voucher — can leave at any time. The most dissatisfied public-school parents can do is yell at the school board, transfer their child to a magnet school, or move to a different neighborhood. Notice that in each of those scenarios, the student (and therefore, the money) stays in the public-school system.

Perhaps what’s scariest to voucher opponents is the notion that schools — and the money that funds them — won’t be under their control anymore, but controlled directly by the people most impacted by them: parents and their children.

Anti-choicers complain that vouchers take away money from public schools. Well, the Cleveland program doesn’t, but some might.

But so what? They also take away the students those schools are supposed to be serving as well. If the money follows each student, then losing some students is a good thing –smaller class sizes, for example. But my guess is that most of the per-student money doesn’t actually go to serve the student, but pay for bloated bureaucracy and overpaid, underqualified teachers.

When one anti-choice panelist (who argued that vouchers were just a plot to resegregate schools) talked Friday about how he sent his children to private school for several years but felt the obligation to pay for it himself, a distinguished-looking gray-haired black lady in the third row spoke up. I paraphrase:

“Well, you could afford it,” she said. “Excuse me. I have to say something. I am a parent and grandparent raising three children by myself. You see this girl?” she asked, pointing to a cute 7-year-old girl in a floral-print summer dress whose straps were kissed by her shoulder-length, curly black hair.

“When she was 4 years old, she begged me to go to school. Now she’s going into the second grade, and she says she doesn’t want to go anymore. She’s totally turned off by school. And I don’t have the money to take her out and send her someplace else. I cannot wait for schools in the District to get better. My child needs a choice.”

I don’t think I need to add anything to that.