My wife Teresa writes a disproportionately large share of the articles in this, our shared, blog. It’s my own fault. I just don’t have the motivation that she has to write, without payment, little articles and opinion pieces and publish them. Today I relented to her gentle prompting and encouragment to write for the blog. I could not choose a topic, so I asked her to choose one. Having recently found an interesting article about Catholic bishops in our home state of Pennsylvania praising Gorvernor Tom Corbett for putting forward plan to implement a school voucher program, she suggested that I write about school choice as a social justice issue. .
Though I tend to be skeptical of the public claims of clergy regarding how public policies would best reflect the Church’s social teaching, at first I was pleasantly surprised by this news and welcomed this unequivocally. Like most registered Republicans, I came down on the side of school choice. But I have done a little more digging on this and found that it is not necessarily so straightforwardly and obviously as good an idea as I previously assumed. I was surprised to see how much support can be found on the left for school choice and vouchers, and I was even more surprised to find cogent libertarian arguments against vouchers.
In an article published on the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s website, Lew Rockwell argues that school vouchers are a “big-government program that increases, not reduces, the role of government in education, and will turn any institution taking vouchers into a carbon copy of state schools themselves.” That is a chilling thought. I never considered the effect they would have on private schools (besides swelling their ranks with more students and thier coffers with tuition money). I could see the likely positive effect that increased competition for tax payer funding would have on public schools. It never occurred to me to wonder what it might cost private schools to accept public money in terms of freedom. What might the government ask for in return? Will the state seek to exert control over curriculum, hiring standards for teachers, religious content of course work, prayer, etc.?
Dr. Roy Cordato of the John Locke foundation argues that contemporary political alignments on the school choice issue are the reverse of what they should be. In his article “Why Liberals Should Support School Vouchers (and Conservatives Shouldn’t)”, he points out that it is in the interest of the left to seek to improve public schools, while those on the right should wish to preserve the freedom of private schools, which he calls “the liberated sector of the education market”. That freedom, he says, is supported by a “wall of separation” between private schools and public money.
It is the flexibility that this wall of separation has created that allows private schools to specialize, to economize where appropriate, and to make changes in response to parental concerns. Private schools can hire the most qualified teachers regardless of whether they have taken the correct sequence of courses at a university school of education or have been certified by the state bureaucracy.
They can decide how much money, if any, they want to put into competitive athletics. They can decide the kinds of methods they want to use in teaching reading or math, and they are not constrained by the textbook selections of a state-run committee. They are also not forced to deal with teachers’ unions or constrained in their curriculum by having to teach to a state-created “end of grade test.”
I hope that the hidden cost of school choice would not be increased government control of private schools, especially religious schools (and most especially Catholic shools), but if that were the case, then it seems to me that such a cost would be too high.