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Voucher Decision Opens Pandora's Box for Public Schools




Summary

On June 27, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Cleveland’s right to offer school vouchers to parents (Miner, 2002). This historic decision was made in part (according to the authors of the majority ruling) because Cleveland offers a wide array of alternative schools to parents, not just religious ones, and in part that because the money goes to parents and not to schools, the government is not directly endorsing or supporting religious institutions. It would seem on the surface, therefore, that the federal government is holding to the constitutional separation of church and state. However, this ruling has paved the way for other faith-based evangelical substance-abuse agencies to receive federal funding. In July, in Milwaukee, “a federal district judge in Wisconsin cited the Supreme Court decision as she upheld public funding of Faith Works Milwaukee, a program combining ‘evangelistic outreach’ with substance- abuse counseling” (p. 3). The director of the agency stated that it was because of the Supreme Court’s decision that his agency received federal funding.

School Voucher

Prior to this decision, states Miner (2002), Bush’s so-called faith-based initiatives were flagging. Now, however, they seem to be making a comeback. “Michael Joyce, former head of the conservative Bradley Foundation and current leader of a faith-based advocacy group in Washington, crowed on the day of the decision, it is now possible for ‘a whole host of social services’ be to voucherized” (p. 4). Miner points out that beyond this threat to what she calls the “crumbling wall between church and state,” vouchers have achieved a huge victory, without any solid conclusions about their actual value. Furthermore, she notes, any way you cut it, money is diverted from the public schools in voucher programs; money that will not be replaced.

Miner (2002) tracks the progress thus far of the voucher movement, noting that it has worked on two main, if contradictory, fronts: the promotion of tuition tax credits for middle-class families whose children are already in private schools, and the promotion of vouchers to low-income Black and Latino/a families whose children are languishing in sub-standard public schools. She notes that the future of the voucher movement is bound to get interesting if and when these two interest groups collide.

In the meantime, says Miner (2002), the voucher movement, according to all predictions, will proceed slowly, given that public opinion is still opposed to vouchers by an almost universal 2-1 margin. Tax-payers worry about issues like accountability (private schools have little to no accountability in the areas of special education, bilingual education, demographic honesty, and the hiring of certified teachers, among other areas) and standardized testing (which private schools are not required to participate in). However, the day the Supreme Court upheld vouchers as constitutional in Cleveland, Dick Armey (the House Majority Leader) introduced a federal bill to provide vouchers to low-income students in Washington, DC. Can the rest of the nation be far behind if the capital approves of the use of vouchers?

In the end, however, Miner notes that it is too soon to say who will win the voucher battle (2002). She does make it clear, however, that those who are opposed to vouchers, for whatever reasons, need to not only be aware of the pro-voucher movement, but also to be willing to do something about it.

My Impressions

This article was well-written and quite clear, I believe, considering what a complicated subject the whole voucher system is. Miner (2002) does a fine job of outlining the U.S. Supreme Court decision, the pro- and anti-voucher positions, educational issues surrounding vouchers, and how the validating of school vouchers is paving the way for other, more explicitly faith-based, initiatives to pass muster in the federal judicial system.

And this, I think, is what Miner (2002) does best in this article. She lays clear the real reasons why the most powerful pro-voucher advocates are fighting this battle. It’s a matter of the separation of church and state, and there are many, unfortunately with a fair amount of power, in this nation who wish to erode this constitutional mandate. By passing such measures as vouchers, which essentially use public monies to pay religious schools to teach children religious ideology, the Supreme Court has begun making its way down a terribly dangerous slope. Sure, the pro-voucher people can say all they want about the other reasons for why they want vouchers to exist as an option to parents; but the reality is that as long as religious schools stand to gain financially thanks to the government, we are one step closer to an overtly declared theocracy.

Validity of the Author’s Perspective and Evidence Supporting It

Clearly, as per my previous paragraph, I am passionately opposed to anything and everything that threatens whatever fragile barriers we have in place between church and state. I say “fragile” because, after all, we are theocratic in many ways: what religious holidays are national holidays? Whose deity is plastered all over the place everywhere from our money to the walls of many of our schools? Exactly. But at least we have had a reasonable amount of freedom from overt religious intolerance; I’ve never been jailed because I’m pagan. Not yet. Not that my spiritual ancestors, in this country, weren’t.

But that’s my point. Do we really want to go back to the time when Tarot cards were illegal? Isn’t that a religious perspective making its insidious way into the legal system? Do we or do we not want to be the Christian equivalent of Iraq? It sounds ridiculous, seeing as how we are a ways away from such a state of being. But we are only a ways away because of people who are almost rabid in their insistence that any steps away from the safeguards in our constitution — the ones that protect us from such things as monarchies and theocracies — are inherently dangerous, and must be opposed. I am one of those people, and find vouchers awfully scary. Not to mention the fact that anything that takes money away from schools that are already crying out for resources is invalid in my mind.

Therefore, for these and many other reasons, I find Miner’s (2002) perspective to be right-on. The evidence is all around us; some of it I mentioned previously. Some of it includes such things as the fact that a president of this country can actually say, without too many repercussions, that it would be a good thing for the government to sponsor religious institutions. Tell me: how many earth-based spiritual non-profits do you think will receive federal funding? Exactly. From the word “god” getting insinuated into public dialogues more and more to the carving of the Ten Commandments on the walls of numerous public spaces, we are continuing to erode the separation of church and state. And this is unacceptable.

Meeting/Resolving Issues Raised by the Author

How can educators meet the challenge of school vouchers? First of all, we need to shake off our frustrating learned helplessness around such matters. We seem to walk around, bemoaning everything, sort of in this passive state, without remembering that we, too, can lobby Congress, influence legislation with our votes, our money, and our voices, and act upon our beliefs. Do we want to just passively watch as money is taken from our public schools and given to private schools? Do we want to just passively watch as, more and more, religion (the Christian one, let’s be real) is being pushed back into the educational system? (After all, there are still court battles over whether or not to teach creationism as a valid theory of the origin of species.) So, we need to get busy and get active.

Second, we need to educate not only ourselves, but also our students and their parents, about the larger issues behind what seems to be an individual choice kind of thing. I don’t believe that most parents want our public school system to fall apart, even as they want their own children out of there. I believe that most parents, given the option, would rather fight to make our public school system stronger. There is precious little education out there — precious little real information — about all the implications of such programs as school vouchers. As we are educators, we might want to think about using our skills to educate our students and their parents about not only English and mathematics, but also the very real legislative maneuverings that are taking place — and about what we as a group can do about them.

Author Critique of Education/Educators and its Validity

Miner doesn’t explicitly level any critique at educators; therefore, this section doesn’t really apply to this article. However, I would like to say that her implication was that, without overt resistance to voucher programs, all those who are in favor of a strong public school system can begin to watch it crumble away before our eyes.

Meeting/Resolving Criticisms Leveled by the Author

Again, this section is rather inapplicable to the article I have critiqued.

References

Miner, B. Keeping public schools public: Voucher decision opens Pandora's box. Rethinking Schools, 17(1), 3-5.