If a local church in your community were to catch fire, should your local fire department let it burn to the ground? If a local priest, minister or rabbi were being robbed, should the cops just drive by and tell him he’s out of luck? Or should the government make it illegal for you to use your tax refund to donate to a religious organization?
You probably think I am sounding more insane than usual, but trust me, there is a method to my madness.
These questions stem from watching last week’s Indiana Supreme Court hearing on whether school vouchers violate the Indiana Constitution. I am more convinced than ever that vouchers are not only constitutional but that the state should expand its voucher program and make it truly universal.
Once again, a little full disclose before we get started: I do occasionally work with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. But I also have been a voucher supporter for a decade or so.
Just a quick recap, last week’s argument centered on Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution which says, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”
Voucher opponents said the language is clear and no money can be spent which directly benefits any private religious schools. Voucher proponents said the beneficiary is the student and the parents, not the school. And the issue boiled down to how to determine who “benefits” from the vouchers?
I tend to side with the state that the “beneficiaries” of the vouchers are the students, the families and the state as a whole. Any “benefit” to the religious institution is incidental.
This is the equivalent of a city plowing the streets, and there just happens to be a church on the same block as my house. Should the city not plow my street because the church would get the “benefit” of a road that was cleared with tax dollars? Of course not.
The benefits to private religious schools under the voucher system are incidental at best. It would be one thing if these schools were making a profit under the voucher system, but I have yet to meet one private school administrator who was using money from vouchers to plan his or her next staff trip to the Cayman Islands.
Parents are choosing vouchers – in record numbers by the way – because they believe the traditional public schools in their communities are not doing the job. And instead of public schools continuing their perpetual whining about private and charter schools for that matter, they should do some serious self-examination.
I would argue that they should embrace vouchers and then work to improve their schools so parents are leaving the private and charter schools and coming back to them.
Stifling competition and engaging in protectionism is no way to educate children. It is a way to keep failing schools operating and lazy teachers and uninspiring bureaucrats employed at taxpayers’ expense.
Maybe there should be a constitutional amendment banning that.