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School Voucher Initiative

In The United States today, there is a broad consensus that the nation’s
public education system needs improvement. Despite enormous budget increases,
American public schools are not adequately educating their students, inevitably
weakening the nation’s future. Private and Parochial schools, however,
generally continue their tradition of education and discipline and produce
graduates properly equipped to meet the challenges of the workforce. A movement
aimed at correcting this disparity in the hopes of improving overall education
has recently been gaining momentum in the political and media arenas. School
voucher initiatives, will help revamp the education system by creating
competition between public and private schools and offering American parents and
students the freedom to choose the best school for their individual needs. Such
voucher programs, though not yet thoroughly proven, is consistent in promoting
the American ideas of independence, freedom, and free market competition, while
upholding both clauses of the First Amendment. The Current State of American
Education “In the United States, most public school districts make enrollment
assignments without regard to student or parent preference. Students are simply
assigned to the school nearest their home. While occasionally students can be
assaigned elsewhere for administrative reasons such as racial balance, the
administrators who determine enrollment generally do not consider the unique
aptitudes and interests of individual students and the learning environment that
would best foster their growth. School choice is non-existent. School vouchers
provide a comprehensive kind of choice that allows parents to choose from among
not only government schools but independent schools as well. While there are
several ways to create this choice, the one most proposed is through
state-issued vouchers worth up to a specified dollar amount when redeemed at
participating schools for tuition. School choice lets parents determine what
schools best meet the needs of their children. Parents may choose any qualifying
schools with space available, public or private, either within or outside the
district. The dollar then follows the scholar. Students choosing public schools
continue to receive state funding. Students opting for private schools may
receive state scholarships worth, under most voucher proposals, half the
per-pupil cost of public schooling. If a state’s system of public education
costs the taxpayers $6,000 per student?near the national average?a student
attending an independent school could receive a scholarship of $3,000. That is
more than enough to cover the tuition at most independent schools, a fact that
in and of itself speaks volumes about the state of U.S. public schools. School
vouchers dramatically increases equality of opportunity. Schools will be funded
only to the extent that parents voluntarily decide to enroll their children in
that particular school. Like private enterprises, the schools will need to
compete to satisfy their customers. No customer will be forced to accept
unsatisfactory performance.” Agenda for America 131-133 America’s public
education system is at a crossroads. Too many of our citizens are not educated.

Illiteracy has become a national epidemic. American students are scoring
significantly lower than their international counterparts on international
exams, and our Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have fallen dramatically, down
nearly eighty points in the past three decades. 1 America has the best-paid
educators and the least-educated teenagers in the developed world. America has
the best-organized teacher unions and the most chaotic schools in the developed
world. Agenda p. 127 A Harris poll of employers found that only 22% feel
today’s entrants to the workforce know math well. Only 12% feel that new
employees can write well. A mere 10% believe that graduates know how to solve
complex problems. Only 30% of emplyers tanked the overall education of current
students as positive. Source: Scan…NCPA #1 Education spending in constant
dollars has increased 12-fold since 1920. But in spite of longer school years, a
doubling of teachers’ salaries’ and dramatic downsizing in classrooms,
one-fourth of American children cannot, or can barely, understand written
English. Census data show public schools have become the second likeliest place
in America for a violent crime to occur. The solution is to unlock the
public-school door, so kids and parents can escape failed schools if they
choose. THOMAS #1 After more than a decade of national attention and reform
efforts, there should be little doubt that America’s schools remain in crisis.

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The number of college freshman taking remedial courses in reading, writing, and
math is rapidly accelerating. America’s public school system was initiated in
the early 1900s by Progressive Era reformers who believed that a rational,
professional, and bureaucratic system–a “one best system”–could be
established to maintain certain standards of education for all of society.

Although such socialist thinking and economic planning have collapsed elsewhere
in the world–most notably in the former Soviet Union, China, and Eastern
Europe–we Americans have failed to apply the lessons in the few areas of our
economy that are organized along similar lines. Tragically, although our
unified, centralized government school system is a dinosaur in the information
age, it fiercely resists market-oriented re- forms. CATO # 2 Massive school
bureaucracies divert scarce resources from real educational activities, deprive
principals and teachers of any opportunity for authority and independence, and
create an impenetrable bulwark against citizen efforts to change the school
system. The school systems have become susceptible to influence only from
special-interest groups, notably the teachers’ unions and other elements of the
education establishment. Like factories of the former Soviet Union, America’s
government schools are technologically backward, overstaffed, inflexible,
unresponsive to consumer demand, and operated for the convenience of top- level
bureaucrats. Not just free-market intellectuals hold those views. Albert Shanker,
president of the American Federation of Teachers, acknowledged recently, It’s
time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a
bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and
there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that
our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than
our own market economy.(15) CATO #2 Vouchers are rooted in America’s history
SCHUNDLER: Bartoletti’s concern about discriminatory practices betrays her lack
of knowledge regarding urban education. Our thoroughly integrated private and
parochial schools stand in sharp contrast to many of our government schools,
which are as segregated as those which once existed in Alabama and Mississippi.

Moreover, private schools are required by law to obey all of the civil rights
laws of the nation. Finally, questions of constitutionality are also a bogus
issue. For 50 years, GI’s have been free to use GI Bill benfits at religiously
affiliated colleges as well as at secular colleges. The Supreme Court has also
upheld the right of parents to use federal vouchers for religiously affiliated
day care services. These folks like to justify their actions by declaring, as
the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State do, that
“church-state separation stands as one of the foundations of our
Nation.” But this just isn’t true. As anyone who has studied the early
America recognizes, the ideas of schooling and religion were inseparable.

Article three of the Ordinance of 1787, which granted large tracks of federal
lands to the states, opined, “Religion, morality and knowledge, being
necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means
of education shall be forever encouraged.” It was the churches that gave
birth to the young nation’s schools. Grammar schools were funded and run by the
local parish, and colleges like Harvard and Princeton were created for the
express purpose of turning out ministers. Horace Mann, tireless advocate for
public education found nothing improper with students reading from the Bible
each day. Ironically, as Viteritti indicates, the real push for a separation
between church and state came in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Bigots like Senator
James G. Blaine were aghast at the number of Catholic immigrants entering the
country. Blaine fought for a constitutional amendment to bar any public funds
from flowing into sectarian schools. He did not, however, seek to end the common
public school practice of daily readings from the King James Bible. Public
schools were Protestant schools, and Blaine and the Know-Nothing sorts liked
them that way. Ultimately the amendment failed, but Blaine still won because
states added Blaine amendments to their own constitutions. The phrase “wall
of separation” leapt into popular parlance in 1947. Justice Black in his
majority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education, wrote “In the words of
Jefferson, the cause against establishment of religion by law was intended to
erect a wall of separation between church and state.” This phrase, wall of
separation,” is regularly invoked by those who want to keep the schools
secularized. This is peculiar and a bit sophistical, for what is left unsaid is
the outcome of the Everson case. In 1941 New Jersey passed a statute that
authorized local school boards to provide transportation to students attending
parochial schools. New Jersey wasn’t exactly striking out on new ground- no less
than fifteen other states had similar laws. The Court held that this law did not
violate the establishment clause. Black wrote that government must take a
position of aloof neutrality toward religious groups. Among other things,
“[t]he ‘establishment of religion clause’ of the First Amendment means at
least this: Neither state nor the Federal Government can set up a church.

Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one
religion over another.” However, “other language of the amendment
command that New Jersey cannot hamper its citizens in the free exercise of their
religion. Consequently, it cannot exclude Catholic, Lutherans, Mohammedans,
Baptists, Jew, Methodists, Non-Believers, Presbyterians, or the members of any
other faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare
legislation.” The reasoning behind this was simple but sane — provided the
statutes favor no particular religion and benefit the public, they are no
offense to the First Amendment. This idea makes much sense, and Congress has
often been guided by it. Legislation like the GI Bill, the National Defense
Education Act, the National Science foundation Act, college housing loans, and
school lunch acts have all funneled federal dollars into religious coffers for
the sake of the public good. And in the 1970 Cochran v. Louisiana case, the
Court affirmed that Louisiana could rightly use tax dollars to purchase secular
textbooks for students at parochial schools. In deciding the controversies with
which this piece began, one hopes that the federal and Supreme Court will stop
up their ears to the nonsense being hurled from the hard right and left.

Hopefully they will instead listen to history, which tells a more complex story
and which offers sane, reasonable guidelines that thwart theocracy without
sacrificing the well-being of America’s children.


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