The Deadman Night Rider

A forum for evening students of the SMU Dedman School of Law and other outlaws..

Friday, June 17, 2005

Check out the Legal Affairs debate this week (link is over at the left hand side) – this week’s topic is the legality/validity of school voucher programs. Laura Underkuffler, a professor at Duke Law School, writes in opposition to vouchers, while Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of a voucher advocacy group, defends them.

Underkuffler still has one rebuttal hanging out there left to post, but it’s clear that she’s gotten the worst of this exchange. She has repeatedly resorted to conflating vouchers with full public funding of religious schools as the basis of her argument in order to bring in problems encountered in the UK with Islamic schools teaching radical ideals. She breezes past the argument that voucher programs would require participating private schools to accept all comers so that she can get on to her worst-case scenario – public education being reduced to a marketplace for vouchers.

However, she holds up a Minnesota program that opens access to all public schools to students from any district in the state as an ideal – which sets up just such a marketplace and concedes all of the anti-voucher arguments about taking away vital funds from already-failing districts, etc. She just doesn’t want to include private schools in the market for fear they will teach values and ideas she doesn’t like, ignoring the fact that to qualify for the voucher funding those schools would have to play by rules that would make it impossible to teach narrow, extreme curriculums.

Consider the private Jewish primary schools here in Dallas. They are great schools, but they devote most of their day to classes taught in Hebrew. To qualify for voucher funding would mean accepting non-Hebrew speakers and a corresponding duty to accommodate them – a choice between retaining their character as a Jewish school or accepting public funds. Any school sufficiently out of the mainstream is not going to find it rational to participate, just like many private companies find the disadvantages of being a public company (reporting, regulation, etc.) outweigh the benefits of the access to public capital markets.

The only way institutions like this would become publicly funded in a true sense is if vouchers were expanded from low-income families to everyone, an open, free market in education that is Underkuffler’s straw man. As a society, however, we have a pretty good record of controlling this kind of slippery slope – all sorts of public assistance programs from food stamps to Social Security (currently via taxation of benefits, but soon even more explicitly) are means-tested with little difficulty.


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