Indiana school choice a boon for parochial schools
posted at 8:45 am on August 30, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
Over the weekend, I wrote about the ugly scene at Messmer Preparatory Catholic School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when union thugs showed up to protest Governor Scott Walker’s visit to the “choice school,” one that allows parents to opt out of the public school system. The unions fear choice schools not because they don’t educate children — 85% of Messmer students go on to college — but because they eat into the union’s control over schools and children. The same is true in Indiana, where a newly-broadened voucher program has thousands of children heading to private schools, and administrators begging parents not to leave (via Instapundit):
Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.
It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.
In at least one district, public school principals have been pleading with parents not to move their children.
Voucher program opponents plan to sue Indiana. Do they claim that children are getting substandard education through this voucher plan? No, they’re angry that parents can use government vouchers to pay for education at parochial schools:
“The bottom line from our perspective is, when you cut through all the chaff, nobody can deny that public money is going to be taken from public schools, and they’re going to end up in private, mostly religious schools,” said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. …
Nearly 70 percent of the vouchers approved statewide are for students opting to attend Catholic schools, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the five dioceses in Indiana. The majority are in the urban areas of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary, where many public schools have long struggled.
Let’s not forget that the voucher program returns money to parents whose children aren’t costing the state anything for their education. If it’s like most voucher programs, it doesn’t even return the full tax bite for each family, which means those families are funding both systems. By putting their children into private schools, these parents are almost certainly spending more money on education than those in the public system.
Note, though, that it’s not an atheist activist group threatening to file suit, or some non-profit alleging incompetence in the delivery of education. It’s the teachers union that wants to file suit. Why? Because as students leave, public-school teacher positions will get eliminated. Of course, an influx of students into private schools will mean more jobs for teachers in the private market, but the union doesn’t control the employers in that sector like they do in the public-school system. Teachers have to demonstrate competence and effectiveness longer than just achieving tenure.
The real problem for the ISTA isn’t that the money goes to parochial schools; it’s that they’re not getting the money themselves. They want these children locked into places where “many public schools have long struggled” to educate properly in order to protect their own cash flow. They can’t compete with the private market, and so they want to delegitimize it by casting long-established parochial schools as some kind of threat to the American public. They’re not worried about the children; they are only worried about themselves, which is one good reason to support Indiana’s voucher program.
As far as their lawsuit is concerned, well, best of luck to them in winning that argument. If government subsidies are to have a test for religion, then will Medicare and Medicaid stop reimbursing Catholic hospitals for services performed for poor and elderly patients?
Update: From the comments, I’m reminded of Zelman v Simmons-Harris, a 2002 case decided by the Supreme Court that upheld vouchers for parochial schools as long as the program met a five-point test:
- the program must have a valid secular purpose,
- aid must go to parents and not to the schools,
- a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered,
- the program must be neutral with respect to religion, and
- there must be adequate nonreligious options.
I suspect that ISTA will argue that the Indiana program fails on the last criterion by claiming that there aren’t enough non-parochial private schools to meet the test. I also suspect that (a) a court won’t agree on that point, and (b) the sudden demand for private schools in Indiana will shortly make that a moot argument anyway.