NOTE: This post was originally a paper I wrote for a political science class back in 2003. Nonetheless, the issues it addresses are as relevant as ever.
In June of 2002, the push for educational reform by means of private school vouchers scored a major victory as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling which upheld vouchers as Constitutional. In the majority opinion, Cheif Justice William Rehnquist affirmed that:
We believe the program challenged here is a program of true private choice...It is part of a general and multifaceted undertaking by the State of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed school district. (1)
This failure of much of the current public school system is a key, although by no means the only, premise in this very complex issue. As a society which places a high value on freedom, it is understandable that parents would desire maximum freedom in the education of their children. Such freedoms would include parents of all races, persuasions and income levels being able to choose quality schools which are reflective of their moral and religious values and where their children’s risk of drugs and violence is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, in many cases the capability of public schools to provide these things is simply not there.
First of all, the means of funding public education are grossly inadequate. The businesses whose tax revenue is used for this purpose is often concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods, leaving poor and minority families out in the cold. On the other hand, if a person invests the work, money and resources necessary to start a business, I can certainly understand why they would want their taxes to fund the schools where their children attend. This leaves us with an unfortunate stalemate, forcing us to choose between two unacceptable alternatives. Of the current proposals, I believe that private school voucher are the best way to help remedy this.
Some would object that public funds should not be used for schools with religious orientations. However, I would argue that religion is taught even more strongly in public schools than in many private ones. For example: a biology teacher who uses evolutionary theory to dogmatically claim that there is no God is teaching religion (yes, secular humanism is classified as a religion). This approach is not only hypocritical, it undercuts the very notion of "public" education and replaces it with a dictatorial method of indoctrination.
The spiritual elements of science are a vital, yet often overlooked aspect of education today. In fact, some of the greatest scientists in history, such as Gallileo, Copernicus, Keplar and many others acknowledged the existence of a Creator. Observing the wonders and majesty of the natural world in many cases sparks contemplation of something higher than ourselves. Are we so short sighted as to deny students this privilege? Yet the structure of public education often renders it meaningless.
There are other sides to this debate other than public schools vs. vouchers. A third proposal, advocated by many Libertarians, involves totally abolishing the concept of government run schools, and subsequently privatizing all education. Arguing that the Constitution provides no Federal role in education, advocates of this viewpoint claim that it offers maximum freedom for parents. Parents who want their children to be taught traditional or religious values can simply send them to a school where they are emphasized. Those who desire a more secular or liberal education for their children can also choose accordingly. The Alliance for the Separation of School and State provides an in-depth look at this issue. For more information, see .
Although I do not necessarily agree with this view, it does bring important issues to the table. Schools would have to compete against one another just like department stores and restaurants. This would provide strong initiative to fight problems such as drugs and gangs that are now so prevalent in our public schools. The competition would also serve to keep tuition low. Furthermore, no longer funding public schools would allow for a large tax cut which would also help to undercut tuition costs.
However, a potential weakness in the plan would involve the very poorest of citizens. In some cases, even the cost-saving measures mentioned above would still leave some families "out in the cold." This is why vouchers, while certainly not a cure-all, still offer what I feel is the most common sense approach by offering parents the most options to effectively educate their children.
(1) Frieden, Terry. "Supreme Court affirms school voucher program." 27 June, 2002. CNN. . 19 September, 2003.
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