Vouchers & Parochiad 1999

by Fr. Charles Irvin

June 1998

Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Minnesota have school choice voucher programs or educational tax credit programs, both of which give poor families true freedom of choice when it comes to giving their children the education they need to get up out of the poverty subculture. All of these programs came into being after tough fights were raised by the public school monopolists. And the arguments were, of course, laced with predications about the collapse they would cause among the public schools in those jurisdictions.

But have the dire predications about the fall of the Constitution and the demise of the public school system come true? No, of course not.

The School Voucher battle is heating up for Michigan’s next general election ballot in November of 2000A.D. The president of the Michigan Association of School Boards once again presents the same tired old arguments against empowering poor folks with real choice. In the Comment section of the Detroit News Sunday edition on 6 June 1999 he opens up with: “The proposed amendment would remove Michigan’s long-held ban on vouchers, tax credits and other public funding for nonpublic schools.”

Mr. Woolfolk (and those of like mind) deliberately obfuscates the distinguishing difference between monies appropriated for the benefit of parochial schools on the one hand, and tax credits on the other. A tax credit, we should remember, prevents a taxpayer’s dollars from reaching the public treasury! Additionally, a voucher payment runs to individual taxpaying citizens, not to any particular educational institution. For precision in thought with regard to his claim that credits and vouchers are “unconstitutional”, the following exact language found in Article I of the Michigan’s Constitution as amended in 1972 should be carefully examined:

Sec. 4. Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel or teacher of religion. No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose. The civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.

Note carefully that the language is directed at state appropriations of money to benefit institutions. It says nothing about tax credits and vouchers benefiting private individual citizens by empowering them with real choices. THAT has yet to be declared “unconstitutional” by the U. S. Supreme Court.

Coincidentally, other news on 6 June 1999 tells us of a Maryland minor league baseball team that uses a promotional “pitch” in which those who bring a church bulletin to the ballpark receive a discount on tickets to their baseball games. The team is being sued by non-believers and the American Civil Liberties Union who state that the Constitution and public accommodation laws forbid the granting or denying of privileges and monetary advantages based on religious beliefs. Well, if that is their argument, then why do they tell us on the other hand that citizens are to be denied school vouchers empowering their educational choices on the basis of religious beliefs? This is the heart of the voucher and tax credit systems; the benefits run to private taxpaying citizens, not to churches or church related schools. Furthermore they are denied equal benefits under the law on the basis of a religious test, something that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly declared to be unconstitutional.

Another argument advanced by the president of the Michigan Association of School Boards is that his tax dollars would be used to subsidize wealthy parents who send their children to expensive non-public schools. My experience, however, is that those who are struggling to send their children to non-public schools are far from wealthy. They simply want to have a choice as to where their tax dollars are spent to educate their children. We are continually lectured about what is legal, fair and constitutional by people who have not bestirred themselves to talk to those who are the principal beneficiaries of school choice vouchers and tax credits. The vast majority of them are Afro-Americans or Hispanics earning less that $12,000 per year who whose children are labeled as “problem children” in their school districts. Wouldn’t it be a boon for the public schools to “get rid of them” by sending them to non-public schools where they will get the discipline and personal attention they so need and crave?

Furthermore, as for the claim that vouchers and tax credits would “destroy” the financial structures of public schools, hasn’t anybody stopped to figure out that if it costs a local public school district say $10,000 per year to educate a child, and that for $3,000 in voucher or tax credits that child could be educated elsewhere, it would be a relief to the local school district to have that transpire!

Additionally it needs to be pointed out that 75% of Catholic households send their children to public schools. Does anybody seriously believe that Catholic officials and parents want to employ vouchers and tax credits to lower the quality of public schools? Do people think Catholics are fools? And do the opponents of tax credits and vouchers seriously believe that satisfied parents will remove their children and flee from their nearby public schools that are doing a good job?

Then too, there is a fundamentally fallacious assumption that rests underneath the assertions of Mr. Woolfolk and his allies that needs to be clearly seen. They assume that tax dollars belong to the State of Michigan and that the taxpaying citizen loses control over them once their tax payments are deposited in the state treasury. What a novel idea! I had been led to believe that those tax dollars remain the property of those who paid their taxes. And I have yet to hear a rational argument as to why a taxpaying citizen cannot direct where his or her taxed education dollars are to be spent. The problem with vouchers, it appears, is that it gives too much empowerment to the taxpaying citizen.

Finally someone needs to take a long, hard look at the fear and hatred aroused in the public school bureaucrats and teacher’s union officers, those whose job performances and actual jobs are at stake. They attack private citizens who make vouchers available. They attack religiously based advocates who seek vouchers and tax credits. They attach Charter Schools. They attack, attack, and attack. Why? Is it because all of this talk about giving parents true freedom of choice might expose these “educrats” to dreaded performance revues? And if a school, public or private, sectarian or non-sectarian, offers a decent, safe environment in which learning actually takes place and appeals to a supporting group of parents and community members, shouldn’t such a school be given a pat on the back for performing such public service? Shouldn’t a grateful public support such a school?