The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 September 2003

An expansion joint on Voucher Road

Max Jacobs (he's either Common Sense or Wonder) generally applauds the House vote to approve a school-voucher plan for the District of Columbia, but one thing is bothering him:

My worry is simple, a government funded voucher program will eventually be followed by government regulation. It will start very reasonably by requiring teachers to have a certain level of education (though one wonders why parents would ever send their kids to a school with subpar teachers if given a choice, making the regulation unneccesary). So there is a chance that this voucher system will, in fact, end up hurting private schools as they will have to eventually deal with burdensome regulations.

A regulation that is unnecessary is a regulation still. Not being in the Ed Biz, I'm enough of a naïf to think that the imprimatur of the regional accreditation organization would be sufficient, but then I'm not sitting at a big desk in Washington trying to think up a way to expand the reach of my department either.

Private schools could opt out, though, couldn't they?

But what happens when they end up having a large number of their students being part of the voucher program and therefore would take a large hit if they withdraw from the program? What is likely to happen is that they will feel forced to accept the new regulations bit by bit until there is little difference between them and public schools. I mean is it really that unfathomable that the teachers unions pressure Congress to push private schools to unionize making the teaching quality in the public schools and private schools more or less the same?

A new slant on the slippery slope. I don't like the sound of this, but dammit, he might just be right.

Posted at 10:08 PM | TrackBack

Hillsdale College has already felt the bite of this effect. The Department of Education demanded that Hillsdale comply with racial-classification reporting regulations, and justified the demand on the grounds that, though the college was private, some of its students paid their tuition using federal aid. A federal court agreed with the demand.

To avert the onerous and intrusive regulations, Hillsdale set up a special fund, designed to replace any federal aid money a student might receive with private funds. Students are no longer allowed to pay for a HIllsdale education with federally-managed monies; Hillsdale's supporters pick up the tab instead, so the DOE's regulations have no force.

Marshall Fritz, founder of the Alliance For The Separation Of School And State, has exhorted others who seek to liberate education to avoid government-funded vouchers and to concentrate on entirely private alternatives. The point is a good one, and might in time determine whether anything can be done for the future of education in the United States.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 7:39 AM on 6 September 2003

I think the ruling that hit Hillsdale may have been weakened by the Supreme Court's finding that vouchers are constitutional despite the fact some might use them to send their kids to church schools.

The reasoning behind the Hillsdale case parallels the argument against the vouchers in considering government aid to students to be the same as government funding to the school. I could be wrong but I think SCOTUS rejected that view in finding vouchers constitutional.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:08 AM on 6 September 2003

Kevin, if that's correct, it's exceedingly good news!

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 8:10 AM on 6 September 2003

I dug up the text of the Cleveland voucher ruling in 2002, which started this particular ball rolling, and this seems to be the phrase that pays:

"[W]e have repeatedly recognized that no reasonable observer would think a neutral program of private choice, where state aid reaches religious schools solely as a result of the numerous independent decisions of private individuals, carries with it the imprimatur of government endorsement."

So wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist for the 5-4 majority. The question here is whether "state aid," such as the Ohio Project, counts the same as "federal aid," in the form of student loans and grants.

Then again, the Cleveland voucher case was cast as a test of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment, whereas Hillsdale ran afoul of a government agency. Still, consistency would seem to demand that aid to a student does not constitute aid to the school, regardless of circumstances.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:44 AM on 6 September 2003

Since when do government agencies operate under anything even remotely resembling consistency or logic?

Posted by: Steve at 10:16 PM on 6 September 2003