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Tuesday, August 05, 2003.

The Best Argument for a Voucher System. 

Every other week, it seems, a new horror expectorates itself from the ungainly thing that is the modern American public school system. A child is suspended for pointing a chicken finger at his fellows and shouting “bang.” A teacher is forbidden to teach a course in black history because his skin color is white, even though there are no african-american teachers available who are certified to teach the course. A New York public school district re-introduces segregation by opening a public high school only open to “gay, bisexual, and transgender” students. California state courts rule the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional and prohibit its recital in public schools.

These stories shock, but they do not surprise. While each new iteration may amaze, in novelty or degree, the basic pattern is expected. The public schools, many of them at least, are run by idiotic political hacks, who churn out these sorts of events fairly regularly. They do it for many reasons, all of them political – either the vogue for “zero tolerance” polices, the constant pandering to special interest groups, the drive to ensure freedom from religion, or whatever other cause du jour feels important.

The unifying factor behind all these absurdities is that they spring from use of the educational system as a political tool. Such use is inevitable, as long as a centrally controlled, top-down, State-run public school system exists. The temptation to use that system for political ends, either in terms of indoctrination or grandstanding, is too much to expect a thousand thousand different public school administrators and bureaucrats to forebear. The problem is the system itself, the opportunities it presents for ridiculous overpoliticization of children’s lives.

     And the single best argument in favor of voucher-based school choice programs is that they would put a stop to such things. When the funding is provided, not at the whim of political bureaucrats, but at the whim of parents, no teacher is going to risk suspending a child for playing guns with a chicken finger – to do so would risk loss of that student’s tuition dollars. If a private school was opened with an explicitly all-black faculty, or all-gay student body, it would not be nearly as much of an issue as when the government opens or runs such a facility, because there would be no implied government endorsement of segregation. If a private school wants its students to recite the pledge of allegiance, with or without the phrase “under God,” it can do so freely, because (as the Supreme Court has confirmed) in such cases there is no conflict betweenc hurch and state.

There is no need for any other reason to support replacing our public school system with privatized voucher programs. Not just because they give students trapped in failing schools an opportunity to opt out. Not just because they provide another option to help ensure that any child who merits a quality education can get one, regardless of financial hardship. But simply because they help prevent the use of our nation’s school system as a political tool.


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