The Indiana Supreme Court is hearing arguments this morning regarding the constitutionality of the state voucher program. In that spirit, I decided to re-post a column I wrote back in April for the StatehouseFile.Com. Happy Reading!
Full disclosure: In one of my many capacities I work with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice doing some consultant work. However, I have been a proponent of school choice and vouchers for years.
This may shock both friend and foe alike, but I used to oppose vouchers for private schools.
I was never crazy about public money going to private schools, whether religious or non-sectarian. However, a few years back my positioned changed.
The big thing that did it was that I got tired of public schools whining about how they always needed more money when they were already getting more money per student than their private school counterparts. Secondly, one day I realized that public money was already going to private schools at the college level in the form of student financial aid.
I had to ask myself: Does it really make sense to give what is basically a “voucher” at the college level but not do it at the K-12 level, which will determine whether the kid gets into college in the first place?
I bring this up because of the Indiana Supreme Court will soon hear the Indiana State Teacher’s Association-backed lawsuit that argues the state’s voucher law is unconstitutional.
Now I could argue this is just another example of typical teachers unions putting themselves and their jobs before students. I could also argue that if the teachers unions spent as much time trying to improve schools as they did fighting school reform they would be much better off.
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But then again, these are the same people who not only spent $1 million in the last election to end up with a 60-40 Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but when asked why not start up their own charter school and show everyone how real school reform is done they clammed up like Snookie at a spelling bee.
One of the main arguments in the lawsuit is based on Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution, which reads as follows…
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.
Voucher opponents argue that any public money that goes to private, religious institutions is a benefit to the school and therefore violate the Indiana Constitution.
Not so fast.
First of all, the beneficiary of the dollars is not the school; it’s the students and their families. I might be willing to concede the benefit argument if the school was making money on the deal, but it isn’t. You will find that well-run K-12 schools are not-for-profit ventures that break even as opposed to running huge deficits.
But an even broader argument is that if the state school voucher program violates the Indiana Constitution, then so does the Frank O’Bannon scholarship program. That program is designed to help Hoosiers get access to higher education.
Want to know some of the eligible schools on the list? Here are a few…
- Anderson University
- Crossroads Bible College
- Holy Cross College
- Saint Joseph’s College
- Saint Mary’s College
- University of Notre Dame
The last time I checked, these were schools that had a major religious component to them. And if there was a debate as to whether these scholarships violated the Indiana Constitution, it must have been before my time, because I sure don’t recall opponents bringing this up during the last legislative session.
Now some opponents will say that there is a difference between K-12 education and college because college is optional and primary and secondary education are not. I have no idea what that has to do with anything.
I read that as saying that if the education is mandatory, parents should not have a choice, but if the education is optional (and I argue a post-secondary education isn’t in the 21st century) then the choice is OK. What kind of idiotic, backwards thinking is that? Oh yeah, it’s the type of thinking that manifested itself in the form of opposition to meaningful school reform.
And, one last item. I also think it’s funny that as the state is getting ready to potentially take over 18 schools that have been failing for the past five years, opponents of education reform managed to find time to file a lawsuit, but never found time to help gets these schools off academic probation.
Isn’t it ironic that the people who profess to support urban education the most are usually the ones who do the most damage to it.