School Voucher Programs and Initiatives

In The United States today, there is a broad consensus that the nation’s public education system needs improvement. Despite enormous budget increases, American public schools are not adequately educating their students, inevitably weakening the nation’s future. Private and Parochial schools, however, generally continue their tradition of education and discipline and produce graduates properly equipped to meet the challenges of the workforce. A movement aimed at correcting this disparity in the hopes of improving overall education has recently been gaining momentum in the political and media arenas. School voucher initiatives, will help revamp the education system by creating competition between public and private schools and offering American parents and students the freedom to choose the best school for their individual needs. Such voucher programs, though not yet thoroughly proven, is consistent in promoting the American ideas of independence, freedom, and free market competition, while upholding both clauses of the First Amendment.

The Current State of American Education

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“In the United States, most public school districts make enrollment assignments without regard to student or parent preference. Students are simply assigned to the school nearest their home. While occasionally students can be assaigned elsewhere for administrative reasons such as racial balance, the administrators who determine enrollment generally do not consider the unique aptitudes and interests of individual students and the learning environment that would best foster their growth. School choice is non-existent.

School vouchers provide a comprehensive kind of choice that allows parents to choose from among not only government schools but independent schools as well. While there are several ways to create this choice, the one most proposed is through state-issued vouchers worth up to a specified dollar amount when redeemed at participating schools for tuition.

School choice lets parents determine what schools best meet the needs of their children. Parents may choose any qualifying schools with space available, public or private, either within or outside the district. The dollar then follows the scholar. Students choosing public schools continue to receive state funding. Students opting for private schools may receive state scholarships worth, under most voucher proposals, half the per-pupil cost of public schooling. If a state’s system of public education costs the taxpayers $6,000 per student—near the national average—a student attending an independent school could receive a scholarship of $3,000. That is more than enough to cover the tuition at most independent schools, a fact that in and of itself speaks volumes about the state of U.S. public schools.

School vouchers dramatically increases equality of opportunity. Schools will be funded only to the extent that parents voluntarily decide to enroll their children in that particular school. Like private enterprises, the schools will need to compete to satisfy their customers. No customer will be forced to accept unsatisfactory performance.”Agenda for America 131-133

America’s public education system is at a crossroads. Too many of our citizens are not educated. Illiteracy has become a national epidemic. American students are scoring significantly lower than their international counterparts on international exams, and our Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have fallen dramatically, down nearly eighty points in the past three decades. 1 America has the best-paid educators and the least-educated teenagers in the developed world. America has the best-organized teacher unions and the most chaotic schools in the developed world. Agenda p. 127

A Harris poll of employers found that only 22% feel today’s entrants to the workforce know math well. Only 12% feel that new employees can write well. A mere 10% believe that graduates know how to solve complex problems. Only 30% of emplyers tanked the overall education of current students as positive. Source: Scan…NCPA #1

Education spending in constant dollars has increased 12-fold since 1920. But in spite of longer school years, a doubling of teachers’ salaries’ and dramatic downsizing in classrooms, one-fourth of American children cannot, or can barely, understand written English. Census data show public schools have become the second likeliest place in America for a violent crime to occur. The solution is to unlock the public-school door, so kids and parents can escape failed schools if they choose. THOMAS #1

After more than a decade of national attention and reform efforts, there should be little doubt that America’s schools remain in crisis. The number of college freshman taking remedial courses in reading, writing, and math is rapidly accelerating.

America’s public school system was initiated in the early 1900s by Progressive Era reformers who believed that a rational, professional, and bureaucratic system–a “one best system”–could be established to maintain certain standards of education for all of society. Although such socialist thinking and economic planning have collapsed elsewhere in the world–most notably in the former Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe–we Americans have failed to apply the lessons in the few areas of our economy that are organized along similar lines. Tragically, although our unified, centralized government school system is a dinosaur in the information age, it fiercely resists market-oriented re- forms. CATO # 2

Massive school bureaucracies divert scarce resources from real educational activities, deprive principals and teachers of any opportunity for authority and independence, and create an impenetrable bulwark against citizen efforts to change the school system. The school systems have become susceptible to influence only from special-interest groups, notably the teachers’ unions and other elements of the education establishment. Like factories of the former Soviet Union, America’s government schools are technologically backward, overstaffed, inflexible, unresponsive to consumer demand, and operated for the convenience of top- level bureaucrats.

Not just free-market intellectuals hold those views. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, acknowledged recently,

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.(15) CATO #2

Vouchers are rooted in America’s history

Bartoletti’s concern about discriminatory practices betrays her lack of knowledge regarding urban education. Our thoroughly integrated private and parochial schools stand in sharp contrast to many of our government schools, which are as segregated as those which once existed in Alabama and Mississippi.

Moreover, private schools are required by law to obey all of the civil rights laws of the nation.

Finally, questions of constitutionality are also a bogus issue. For 50 years, GI’s have been free to use GI Bill benfits at religiously affiliated colleges as well as at secular colleges. The Supreme Court has also upheld the right of parents to use federal vouchers for religiously affiliated day care services.

These folks like to justify their actions by declaring, as the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State do, that “church-state separation stands as one of the foundations of our Nation.” But this just isn’t true.

As anyone who has studied the early America recognizes, the ideas of schooling and religion were inseparable. Article three of the Ordinance of 1787, which granted large tracks of federal lands to the states, opined, “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” It was the churches that gave birth to the young nation’s schools. Grammar schools were funded and run by the local parish, and colleges like Harvard and Princeton were created for the express purpose of turning out ministers. Horace Mann, tireless advocate for public education found nothing improper with students reading from the Bible each day.

Ironically, as Viteritti indicates, the real push for a separation between church and state came in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Bigots like Senator James G. Blaine were aghast at the number of Catholic immigrants entering the country. Blaine fought for a constitutional amendment to bar any public funds from flowing into sectarian schools. He did not, however, seek to end the common public school practice of daily readings from the King James Bible. Public schools were Protestant schools, and Blaine and the Know-Nothing sorts liked them that way. Ultimately the amendment failed, but Blaine still won because states added Blaine amendments to their own constitutions.

The phrase “wall of separation” leapt into popular parlance in 1947. Justice Black in his majority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education, wrote “In the words of Jefferson, the cause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.” This phrase, wall of separation,” is regularly invoked by those who want to keep the schools secularized.

This is peculiar and a bit sophistical, for what is left unsaid is the outcome of the Everson case. In 1941 New Jersey passed a statute that authorized local school boards to provide transportation to students attending parochial schools. New Jersey wasn’t exactly striking out on new ground- no less than fifteen other states had similar laws.

The Court held that this law did not violate the establishment clause. Black wrote that government must take a position of aloof neutrality toward religious groups. Among other things, “[t]he ‘establishment of religion clause’ of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

However, “other language of the amendment command that New Jersey cannot hamper its citizens in the free exercise of their religion. Consequently, it cannot exclude Catholic, Lutherans, Mohammedans, Baptists, Jew, Methodists, Non-Believers, Presbyterians, or the members of any other faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation.”

The reasoning behind this was simple but sane — provided the statutes favor no particular religion and benefit the public, they are no offense to the First Amendment.

This idea makes much sense, and Congress has often been guided by it. Legislation like the GI Bill, the National Defense Education Act, the National Science foundation Act, college housing loans, and school lunch acts have all funneled federal dollars into religious coffers for the sake of the public good. And in the 1970 Cochran v. Louisiana case, the Court affirmed that Louisiana could rightly use tax dollars to purchase secular textbooks for students at parochial schools.

In deciding the controversies with which this piece began, one hopes that the federal and Supreme Court will stop up their ears to the nonsense being hurled from the hard right and left. Hopefully they will instead listen to history, which tells a more complex story and which offers sane, reasonable guidelines that thwart theocracy without sacrificing the well-being of America’s children. TOMPAINE.COM

listen to history, which tells a more complex story and which offers sane, reasonable guidelines that thwart theocracy without sacrificing the well-being of America’s children. TOMPAINE.COM

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School Voucher Programs and Initiatives. (2018, Sep 02). Retrieved from