The conservative perspective is normally thought to oppose so-called government handouts. When it comes to school vouchers, however, this trend is getting a bit upside down.
The idea, essentially, is that the money the state pays per student to fund schools should follow the student, if parents decide that their child would do better in a private school. The bond or a similarly-purposed education savings account would use public funds to pay for the student’s private school tuition or help with other educational resources.
This is presented by advocates as the tax share of individual parents supporting what is best for their children, rather than part of the pool of taxes we all pay to pay for a family’s tuition in a private school. It also glosses over the fact that vouchers can reduce public school funding without a corresponding reduction in public school spending.
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An idealized version of the voucher argument might involve, for example, that a promising young mathematician from a family living below the poverty line receives a voucher to attend a private academy designed to hone that student’s unique talents. in a way that a public school might not be. equipped to provide.
Compelling bipartisan cases were presented for this goal, although the results did not provide magic bullets for the education system. According to an Oct. 22 overview in US News & World Report, there is evidence that voucher programs aimed at helping low-income students can lead to modest improvement in public schools due to the need to compete with private school offerings.
However, according to a 2017 study by the non-profit Brookings Institute, there is little evidence that vouchers help individual student performance – in fact, there is evidence that students who receive vouchers for attending private schools perform worse on tests than they would have if they’d stayed in public school.
The way the voucher argument often unfolds in practice, jumping hand in hand with religious objections to public education, was aptly illustrated in the fury brought by voucher advocates to recent board meetings. of Montgomery County.
It doesn’t matter that county governments don’t have the power to authorize voucher programs – that’s up to the General Assembly and the Governor. We remember the hammering that local school boards received on matters of state history and civics curricula, which local school boards do not define, from believers in a fictional plot to teach critical race theory.
The Ghost of Scopes
There’s a lot to admire about Montgomery County’s groundbreaking GOP chairwoman, Jo Anne Price, the first black woman to hold the office. Nevertheless, it is depressing to hear him denounce the supposedly anti-Christian teaching of evolution, as if it were a new and alarming institutional attack on the Christian faith.
Is the goal to travel back in time to the days of the infamous Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes case of 1925, in which a teacher was prosecuted for illegally teaching evolution at school? (The case made Tennessee a national laughing stock.) Are we about to advocate that the government pay for parents to pull their children out of public schools because science books don’t allow for the possibility that the Earth is flat? ?
What an awkward position to take in a county where economic development is intimately tied to the scientific advancements pioneered at Virginia Tech, including breakthroughs in biomedical technology.
To avoid falling down one of the deepest rabbit holes in American culture, we will simply point out that the idea that the principles of evolution directly contradict the Genesis story is not a universally held Christian belief.
“Most Christians around the world,” as represented by statements from the governing bodies of their denominations, “in fact accept biological evolution as fully compatible with their faith,” states a 2010 article published in Evolution: Education. and Outreach. Even the Southern Baptist Convention, while rejecting evolution, recognized that “no conservative Christian should deny that there is an evident process of change in the animal kingdom. And there is even a process of natural selection that at least seems natural.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment: imagine that a state-of-the-art religious private school has opened in the New River Valley. However, it is not Christian, but Islamic. In this hypothetical situation, Islamic fundamentalist parents demand vouchers so that when they pull their children out of public school to attend this private school, the state money follows them.
Would the same voices that are rising now in favor of vouchers support this scenario? Of course, if the Commonwealth extended the availability of vouchers, the law would also apply in such a case.
Stifled Speech vs. Engaging Ideas
Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture – advocating for the good ones, demands that books dealing with black and LGBT issues be removed from library shelves, the surge of anger to purge classroom discussions of anything that can be labeled or mislabeled as “identity politics” – one can’t help but wonder who these primary school students are who are so fragile in their mental makeup that they can’t even bear the slightest idea that he exists worldviews that might contradict what they learned at home?
Can anyone who went to public school, or even private school, remember that such a person ever existed?
Doubts about the effectiveness of building an ideologically conflict-free bubble in which children can live from kindergarten through college graduation may target both liberal and conservative activists, albeit in the Southwest in Virginia, these pushes come mostly from the conservative sector.
In an article published in the August/September issue of Reason, author David French, who strongly supports school choice, warns against banning books from school libraries, writing that such actions teach children that “they need to be protected from offensive ideas” rather than learning “how to engage and tackle concepts they may not like” and that “the response to a thought difficult is to question the expression itself rather than the idea”. Ultimately, this hinders the ability of budding young citizens to fully participate in democracy.
French also suggests that the voice of the students themselves should not be ignored in debates about education, a sentiment too rarely voiced.
There are many great reasons for parents to pursue private education, charter schools, and home schooling.
But asking taxpayers to open their wallets so a child can be shielded from America’s culture of ideas and free speech is sure not going to win over the school-voucher skeptics.