Sunday, December 6, 2009

School Vouchers

My home city of Milwaukee is in the midst of a trailblazing experiment regarding school voucher programs. They've been in place for several years now, and it seems like the stronger charter schools are surviving, while the weaker ones are failing. This, according to a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article covering the progress of school vouchers so far:

The verdict so far, as the article points out, is difficult to gauge, since voucher schools were not required to release standard test results until very recently. (Why, I wonder?) The first results are due to soon be released. When those results come in, we will have a very good argument, pro or con, regarding whether voucher programs should be continued.

My perspective on all this has not changed. I am in favor of school vouchers -- with one important condition: NO PUBLIC MONEY FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. Competition can be a very good thing, prompting organizations to cut waste, streamline efficiency, and improve quality -- traits we need in our schools more than anywhere else. But to use public money to indoctrinate children in a particular religoius doctrine is disastrous. Voucher children would become a captive audience to dogmatic and clerical interests on the taxpayer dime. Arguments that these religious institutions would allow voucher students to "opt out" of religious classes are ridiculous. The "Great Commission" means the gospel must be preached, else those who reject the Gospel will be in eternal hellfire. You simply CAN'T remove that kind of pressure to proselytize with a piece of paper and a signature! And that's before we even get to the inevitability of religiously motivated peer pressure.

Right now, we need quality science education more than ever. And it's bad enough that so many children are being taught pseudoscience in the forms of Intelligent Design, or outright creationism, or the denial of global warming, or even the opposition to vaccination, while leaving it to our colleges and universities to clean up the mess. To muck up science education further by giving phony science public funds simply dumps salt on the wounds, and sets inner city kids back even further -- as if they needed any more obstacles.

What's gotten me thinking about this lately, however, isn't just the recent JS article. Rather, it's what's happening on Capital Hill these days. So many people are up in arms about not using tax dollars to pay for abortions. They recognize that it's wrong to use public money for partisan interests. But that logic works both ways. If we cannot fund abortion with public money, than neither can we fund religious schools with public money.

If conservative interests want to fund religious private schools with vouchers, then they have to also allow public money to fund abortion. OR, forget about funding the religious institutions with public money, and continue to make the argument that public money shouldn't fund abortive procedures, either.

They can't have it both ways.


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