McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“Our Constitution, the oldest written constitution in the world, guarantees each American choice in speech, choice in what is written, choice of religion, choice in association, choice even in choosing or not choosing a weapon. Finally, and most important, there is choice in how we are governed, and by whom,” observed Josh Hammond and James Morrison in the book “The Stuff Americans Are Made Of.”
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on school vouchers, the range of choices available to citizens of the United States will now include school choice for primary and secondary education.
Some will argue that choice has always been a factor in the education of children. In a sense that is true, parents could take what their local public school offered or they could leave it. For those with the financial means, the choice was not all that difficult. However, for countless others it involved a major commitment of already taxed (no pun intended) economic resources. Whether a family chose a private school education or the task of home schooling, a fiscal sacrifice was required.
Money has not been the only factor influencing the choice of children’s education. Government pressure has also played a role. Not so much with private schools, but it has certainly been an issue with the choice of home education. I have a folder in my files more than an inch thick containing news accounts detailing the plight of home school families harassed unmercifully by public school officials throughout the United States. You can rest assured the Home School Legal Defense Association, located in Purcellville, Va., exists for a reason.
Attacks on home education continue in spite of the fact that students taught by parents routinely outperform their public-schooled peers. Some would assert that government scrutiny of home-schooled children is needed to insure they are being taught properly. We have all heard stories of parents who refuse to enroll their children in school and then teach them nothing. Yes, and we have heard about abusive teachers, school violence, drugs on campus, etc… The number of exceptional home school situations vastly outnumbers the poor.
Pardon the digression. This column is intended to focus on government vouchers being made available to parents for the purpose of educating their children, not the state of home schooling. However, don’t expect the range of school choice to include home education. It simply is not and has not been part of the debate. So, even before a voucher program is established by any state, the choice is already limited.
It remains to be seen just how much impact the voucher program will have. All will depend on how many strings are attached to the government dollars. Ultimately, it will not be parents with the biggest decision to make, but the schools. If the government seeks to regulate the money private institutions receive, you can rest assured many religiously based institutions will not accept it.
In offering a dissent to the majority opinion, Justice David Souter said he feared that with the arrival of vouchers in religious schools, differences of opinion over religion will lose a sense of privacy and will become more public and immoderate. If indeed a government-sponsored voucher program seeks to regulate the end recipient of its money, i.e. the private school, then schools founded on religious convictions will have a decision to make. Some will give in to the lure of more students and more money and Souter’s “fear” will be realized. It must be noted these schools will have chosen to become immoderate. However, schools anchored in principles will see compromising in order to receive vouchers as much too high a price and will not accept them.
Time will tell whether or not the Supreme Court’s decision allowing vouchers will revolutionize the state of education, public or private. Everything will depend on how each state drafts its program. The choice will then rest with each private school just as much as it does with each family. As each school comes to the voucher-bridge, it will have to decide whether or not it’s in its best interest to cross.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.