Saturday, May 24, 2008

School Choice: The Legal elephant in the room

The major problem that those advocating vouchers/tax credits for private education ignores is what happened to higher education. On the state and federal levels, political leaders found a way to issue tuition grants and other assistance to students who attended private higher education institutions.

It sounds good, right? Well, take a look at what happened. Once government dollars were sent flowing to private colleges, clever lawyers found a way through lawsuits to make sure that those private colleges met certain government standards in order to get the money. In other words, once truly private institutions became quasi public institutions in that they had to dance to the government tune, so to speak, to get the money.

Now, we have very powerful political forces at work in South Carolina telling us to that our government needs to advocate school choice and a voucher or tax credit plan. Again it seems good. But, with the legal precedent set by the situation with private colleges, it is clear the situation could not end up as planned.

If the government, at any level, gives you money to send your kid to a private institution for K through 12 education, you can rest assured some clever lawyers will find a way to tie that to the situation to private colleges and make the private school you send your kid to dance to their tune for the money. Private schools who once called the way they educated children will have to answer to the government to get the money. That will defeat the purpose.

So, while those children in the areas of South Carolina who are really behind on the various measures of achievement are left trapped in the public schools of their area because there are no real private school choices for them, those parents in other areas of the state who do have private school options will find their children in schools subject to the government's regulations.

The school choice crowd's position is not well thought out, to say the least. If they prevail, the courts show it will be a false victory. It is better for them to use their energy and resources to reform public education as we know it and to call for real substantive changes in how things are done in public education. Making now truly private schools semi public ones just seems to be a waste of resources.

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