Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed legislation Monday making the state
the first in the nation to offer a statewide program of vouchers to help
parents of students in failing schools offset the cost of private
Opponents of the measure include the usual list of suspects, such as
the ACLU and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People -- the NAACP. They have vigorously opposed the measure, and now
say they will file lawsuits to prevent its implementation. If the ACLU
is involved, of course, you can bet that the principal argument they
will make is that the law violates the well-known constitutional
requirement that government treat religious institutions like a smallpox
epidemic, otherwise known as "the constitutional doctrine of the
separation of church and state." The fact that the entire "doctrine" has
been made up out of whole cloth won't slow them down any more than it
ever has, although we can hope that the era of ACLU-style suppression of
the free exercise of religion -- something that is actually protected by
the Constitution, and not just by liberal sentiment - is drawing to a
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Let's take a look at what is actually behind the opposition to the
voucher idea by the NAACP and the educational establishment. Opponents
charge that the program will siphon off "much-needed" funding, as well
as the most promising students from failing schools, leaving them worse
off than they had been. From our experience of voucher programs so far,
it turns out that those arguments are not true. So the question remains,
why is the education establishment so frantically opposed to vouchers
and the entire school choice movement?
Once we put aside any lingering romantic notion that the educrats in
America care about educating our children, the motive of the anti-choice
politicking of the NAACP becomes clear. Fighting school choice serves
the purposes of the reigning liberal establishment in the education
bureaucracy - the NEA. The NEA understands that the school choice
movement is a threat to their power over millions of Americans through
the carefully nurtured monopoly structure of government schools.
The NAACP opposes school choice because their first interest is not
the welfare of the children. Their first interest is their own political
position -- and they have to play their role as part of the liberal
coalition. The cost of membership in the liberal coalition is to blindly
support the agenda and power plays driven by the rest of the coalition,
even at the expense of people in the community they are supposed to
represent. So a group like the NAACP ends up representing the NEA's
organizational interests in the power game, rather than the real
interests of folk at the grass roots. The NAACP can profit, in a
Machiavellian way, if it helps its liberal buddies to fight battles
against school choice so that they can retain their bureaucratic
influence and control. This will help the NAACP organizationally, in
terms of its political clout within the coalition.
For those of us thinking seriously about what will help to correct
the deep and systemic damage that the government school monopoly has
inflicted on our national life, different criteria will apply. The truth
of the matter is that laws like the Florida voucher measure actually
empower people at the grass roots to take steps to correct the failures
of their children's education. This is particularly true for poorer
people, in neighborhoods that are blasted by poverty, and crime, and all
of the associated difficulties. Right now, such people are typically
caught in a web of manipulation that makes them the helpless playthings
of government, politicians, and the grinding forces of vested interests.
As parents, they have very little real influence over the
process that ultimately determines the education of their children.
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Under a voucher system, those parents would know that if the public
school is failing their child, they could come together with others in
their community, perhaps with the assistance of a trusted private
institution such as their church, and initiate a school program that
would give their children an environment more conducive to learning. All
that the educrats can see, of course, is resources "wasted" by being
channeled in directions determined by parents rather than by themselves.
By their definition, any resources that bureaucrats don't control are
wasted. Of course, when resources follow the judgment and decisions of
parents in support of a school they establish and control, it does
precisely the opposite of "siphon off" critical resources for the
educational task of the community. Redeployment of resources through
vouchers actually empowers the most effective users of educational
dollars, the parents, to create new and more effective vehicles for
educating their children.
The only thing that educational choice would siphon off is power. It
would take power out of the hands of politicians, educrats and
bureaucrats, and put it in the hands of parents who don't have it now
precisely and simply because they are not well off financially. As you
may have noticed, the voucher movement is not resisted as strongly by
the entrenched education interests in affluent areas as it is in poor
communities. That's because in affluent areas those who decide that it
is the right thing to do already can pull their kids out of failing
government schools. And in large numbers, including many of the public
school teachers themselves, they do pull their own children out of the
failing government schools and put them into private ones.
I find it incongruous that the very same wealthy liberals who will
get up in court for the ACLU and argue against voucher programs for the
poor are using their own money to put their kids in quality private
schools. Apparently, their view is that poorer parents shouldn't have
opportunity that they have. Rather we should let those low-income
parents continue to be the pawns and victims of a government-dominated
system that is not producing the right results for their children.
A voucher program can put all parents, and especially those who now
lack the financial clout to consider removing their children from public
schools, in a position of strength when dealing with the existing
government-dominated system. Parents who can choose to remove their
children from the system can no longer be taken for granted. They can no
longer be treated as simply the biological units that produce the
captive clients for these schools, who must be monitored for evidence of
abusive tendencies, but who can otherwise simply be ignored.
When the authorities at government schools know that the parent
walking through the school door is somebody who can take their client
away -- a client who is the basis for their bureaucratic power and
control -- they may start treating that parent with a greater respect.
They may start to remember that the customer is always right, and begin
to listen more carefully to what Mom and Dad think their children need.
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Under a voucher system, school authorities will be quietly aware of
the fact that the parents have an alternative, and that if they feel
abused, ignored, or that their needs are not being met, they can go
somewhere else. For these reasons, the very existence of a voucher
program will represent greater clout and greater power, even for those
parents who decide to keep their children within the government
dominated school system.
It is remarkable in human life how such power can help to produce a
better attitude in the people with whom one is dealing. Our Founders
understood that the most durable and effective human institutions would
be those that were crafted from an understanding that people act from a
mixture of good and bad motives -- we are all a little of the saint and
the sinner. The government education industry has been set up on the
basic assumption that government educational bureaucrats are saints, and
they have understandably been tempted to abuse the power flowing from
that assumption. Parents armed with vouchers are ideally suited to
restore a little balance to the situation.
The whole approach of school choice has tremendous advantages for ALL
concerned. This is what we would expect from a policy whose first
principle is the capacity of the people to make the most important
decisions in their lives competently without government baby-sitting.
Moral conservatives should continue to work hard to make educational
liberty a reality throughout the country.