The voucher movement has been newly energized by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a constitutional challenge to Wisconsin’s voucher program. The Court?s denial of certiorari leaves the Milwaukee plan in place, neither affirming the decision of the lower court nor speaking to the legal merits of the case. The Court has…
The voucher movement has been newly energized by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a constitutional challenge to Wisconsin’s voucher program. The Court’s denial of certiorari leaves the Milwaukee plan in place, neither affirming the decision of the lower court nor speaking to the legal merits of the case. The Court has many reasons for deferring consideration of an issue: the controversy may not be deemed significant or ripe for adjudication. Where the subject matter of the suit is politically charged, as with school vouchers, the Court will often wait until the political process has had a chance to operate, until the results of legislative experiments are available for evaluation.
Indiana legislators are being urged to take part in this political experiment. The argument is that government can best serve the needs of children, including poor children, by giving them a voucher, redeemable for a certain sum of money, which parents can then spend at any school willing to admit their child–public, private or parochial. Because vouchers have not been viewed favorably by voters, some proponents suggest instead a tax credit for private school tuition. This strategy is less palatable to those who worry about poor children since poor parents rarely owe enough tax to make such credits useful. Tax credits benefit only middle and upper class taxpayers.
Whatever the funding mechanism, the public policy issues are substantially the same. Does inclusion of parochial schools violate the U.S. constitution, or the Indiana constitution (which has a far more rigid prohibition against funding religion)? Would such a system erode our ability to transmit basic American values? How much extra money will we need to reimburse parents who now pay for private schools themselves? How do schools budget, hire or plan when enrollment can change every year? How is transportation to be handled? What about schools teaching creationism or New Age music instead of biology and history? Or schools that refuse to admit students who aren’t "academically prepared"?
These are important questions, but they pale beside the issue of cost.
Voucher advocates insist that they are not trying to divert resources from the public schools, but there are only two ways to fund such programs. Either you take the money out of existing public school budgets (Milwaukee schools lost twenty-nine million dollars to private schools), or you raise taxes. In either case, the result is a transfer from rural to urban communities, because towns like Cloverdale or Rising Sun don’t have enough students to support alternative schools. Taxes paid by residents of small towns throughout Indiana will buy vouchers for students who live where markets exist and choices are available.
Private schools do a good job of educating children whose parents place a high value on education. So do public schools. Vouchers would shift tax burdens and cost enormous sums without any credible evidence that private schools can do a better job with less motivated students–or that they will even be willing to try.