School Vouchers

How many of you who stop by here teach in private schools? It doesn’t seem as though there are many of us private school teachers out there in the blogosphere. I read Waterfall’s blog; she teaches at a Christian school in North Carolina. If you know of others, I would appreciate links. I feel like an island!

When issues like school vouchers come up, I admit that in my new position as a private, indeed a parochial school teacher, I feel as though I should feel torn. I don’t. I’m against them. Obviously, I have no problem with parents who choose to send their children to private schools and are willing to pay the tuition. I do have problems with parents expecting the taxpayers to send their children to private schools in the form of vouchers. I know of many students at my school that might not be there if not for scholarships, but those funds are freely donated for the purpose of giving students a Jewish education.

The New York Times reported Friday that Florida’s Supreme Court “struck down a voucher program … for students attending failing schools, saying the State Constitution bars Florida from using taxpayer money to finance a private alternative to the public system.” I would venture to guess that many other state constitutions have similar clauses. However, I was surprised to find that the U.S. Constitution did not:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the federal Constitution does not prohibit vouchers, but it also held last year that states were not obliged to finance religious education as well as secular education. Those actions left it to state courts to decide whether voucher programs were legal, and focused national attention on the battle over vouchers in Florida, which teachers’ unions first challenged in 1999.

Florida’s Consititution says, “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” [Emphasis mine.] The court added, “This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not ‘uniform’ when compared with each other or the public system.”

And that’s the point, isn’t it? For instance, the curriuculm at my school requires Hebrew and courses in Tanakh (Bible) and Rabbinic Literature (as well as other Jewish studies), in addition to academic courses such as English, math, social studies, and science. I can think of no public schools that require Hebrew (or even offer it) or offer courses in Judaic studies. Our school is simply different from public schools, and students from public schools who enroll often find it is a bit of adjustment. We might not offer classes those students were taking in their public high school, such as French.

Governor Bush seems to be considering amending Florida’s Constitution. He referred to the ruling as “a blow to educational reform.” I just can’t agree with that assessment. It is clear to me that we need to do something to reform public education, but giving students money to go to private schools is not the answer.

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8 thoughts on “School Vouchers

  1. I tend to agree with your thinking on this issue, Dana. I'll keep my eye open for other private-school-bloggers (there have to be some more out there).

  2. Hi, Dana, I sent you an email with some questions about your class blog through my Yahoo account because I'm not familiar with Outlook email. I hope you have time to respond to it. Your blog is fascinating! Don Cady

  3. You said: "I do have problems with parents expecting the taxpayers to send their children to private schools in the form of vouchers." I disagree with you on the basic conception of vouchers: Vouchers aren't a means of using *somebody else's* taxes to send *my* kids to private schools. I see it as a refund of *my* school-related tax dollars back to *me*, to spend as I wish. In other words, vouchers are a way to guarantee that each parent's money is spent on education in some way, but the precise form of that education spending is left up to the parents, not the state. But again, it's a refund of *my* tax dollars to spend on *my* kids, not somebody else's money for my kids. Certainly some formulation of vouchers could take money from somebody else and put it in my voucher. But I don't think it has to be that way. The whole thing is moot if Florida's state constitution prohibits it and Jeb doesn't amend the constitution.

  4. Since you are at a private school maybe you could answer some claims that the people who promote make: 1. Does your school accept all students that current want to attend? That is, does your school have capacity to absorb more students? 2. If all of the students in your state received vouchers, would your school expand to take in more students? Many pro-voucher claims that the law of supply and demand would cause schools to expand. 3. Does your school adapt to parents demands or do the students adapt to the school's culture? 4. Does your school fire teacher's at a higher rate than public school? Does the school pay higher than public schools? Are the teachers more highly qualified? 5. Could your school operate at an any possible level of voucher reinbursement?

  5. I can in no way answer those claims for every private school, as each school is different. In addition to that, my school is a religious school and unlikely to receive students with vouchers, particularly as it is a Jewish school. My speculation is as follows: No, my school does not accept all students that want to attend. We have a limited number due to the size of our current building and faculty. That may change when we move into our new building, but it will never grow more than about 500, I'd say. I doubt our school would expand to take in vouchers. We would only expand to meet the demands of Jewish residents. The students adapt to the school's culture. No, we do not fire at a higher rate. The pay rate is the same. The teachers are in many cases more highly qualified than public school teachers with which I've worked. I doubt we would be involved with vouchers in any way.

  6. My wife and I have taught in or worked with public schools our entire careers, and I've always liked the idea of vouchers. They would disrupt the union but would make the professioanlization of teaching possible. Groups of like-minded teachers would have the chance to go into practice together. But that's not why I support them. I would like every group of parents and teachers who wants to do something better to have the chance.

  7. In other words, vouchers are a way to guarantee that each parent's money is spent on education in some way, but the precise form of that education spending is left up to the parents, not the state.

    Very well put. And it is important to bear in mind what a crushing expense education is for religious families who don't feel secular education is an option.

  8. I agree that religious education can be expensive, and it is important that parents have that option, but I have strong reservations about allowing federal or state dollars to fund it. If they get to fund it, they'll want a say in it, and we all see how well NCLB is working. We have many scholarships for students in need at our Jewish school. I think we're better off if we don't accept vouchers.

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