School Choice in the Spotlight
Nothing says the end of January like school choice, right? January 26th kicked off “National School Choice Week,” a week of advocacy focused on different types of educational opportunities for children, from public schools, to charter schools, and above all, vouchers.
The term “school choice” and the language proponents use masks the detrimental effect that voucher programs have. Vouchers are a form of government subsidy given to parents to use towards tuition and other related expenses in private and parochial schools as an alternative to sending their children to underperforming public schools. From an purely education standpoint, vouchers are harmful because they redirect money from public schools to private schools – once the funds have gone to private schools, the general populace no longer has control over how the public money is spent. Ultimately, the “choice” in “school choice” lies with private school administrators, and not with parents.
Many tout that vouchers are a solution for problems in our public education system, where in truth, the call for a voucher program is a signal that more attention needs to paid for the public schools, which typically comes down to funding. In addition, vouchers pose serious church-state concerns: many such programs allow tax dollars to be used at private religious schools as well as private secular schools, calling the constitutionality of these schemes into question.
For the most part, thus far, the lower courts have ruled that such proposals amount to government funding of religious institutions, a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. State courts in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maine, Arizona and Florida have struck down voucher programs that send funds to religious schools–the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld vouchers.
This week, you might hear advocates in the media calling for more “school choice” programs; more than ever it is important to be informed on this crucial issue concerning the future robustness of the public education system, as well as our founding principle of the separation of church and state. The Reform Movement firmly opposes school vouchers – to learn more about why, click here.
Every child deserves the highest quality education our country can offer. Voucher programs that violate the First Amendment must be opposed in order to protect the constitutional values by which our nation is guided. We must invest in our public schools and ensure that public funding does not go to private schools, taking vital resources away from districts and schools that desperately need it.