So, my first political-type entry. I don't know why I picked school vouchers to write about, except that it might appeal to some of the people who have managed to show up here so far, and it might generate some discussion. (Hmmmmm, do I really want discussion, or do I just want people to be reading my blog? Probably both.)
On the face of it, school vouchers don't seem like such a bad idea. Some opponents argue about how letting families use their tax dollars to go to a private school will decimate an already bad public school system. I have to confess that I don't buy that argument, although I am opposed to vouchers for other reasons which will become clear in a moment. I don't buy it because, well, encouraging people to abandon bad school systems (or any bad system for anything) is exactly what proponents think is best. Our society is based in capitalism, after all, and if a system doesn't work, it doesn't deserve any infusions of cash.
But any time the Religious Right is in favor of an idea, I immediately get suspicious (they've had some good ones, but not many). School vouchers weren't their idea, but they jumped on the bandwagon enthusiastically once it was suggested. The two-fold benefit to them is clear. First, they reap the financial windfall of the increase in students attending their schools. And second, they get to work on bringing more families into their churches.
But I don't think the Religious Right has really thought this thing through. Will Americans stand for paying our tax dollars to a strongly fundamentalist school? What if they teach (or imply) that all Jews are going to hell? What if a family wanted to send their kids to a blatantly racist church? There are plenty of them around. And on the other side, what if a family wanted to send their kids to a school founded by Wiccans (witches)? Or to a fundamentalist madrassa (Islamic school)? I don't know if any exist now, but with the prospect of funding from vouchers, it won't be long before they do.
Will we have to make a list? "Schools associated with Churches A, B, and C are acceptable, but schools associated with Churches Y and Z are not." I don't see any way that this could conform to the Establishment Clause of the constitution...the very first words of our Bill of Rights. The alternative is to allow funding of any church at all (including racist, Wiccan, or Islamic*). And I really don't believe the Religious Right is ready to allow that.
There's another problem, too. I don't have all the details of the economic philosophy worked out, but this is something I've been thinking about for a long time...you'll have to tell me what you think. If we really consider sufficient education to be a right in the U.S., we should not leave it to market forces. Anything left to market forces is vulnerable to cost-cutting, and to the prospect of leaving some people out. I am all for an open market, don't get me wrong. But you can't provide for basic rights (think health-care, for example) through market forces, because then some people would be willing to do without those rights, which is contradictory to the whole notion of basic rights. Right? Hmmmm...I'm still working on that one. Your ideas are welcome.
*I group these together because they each would have problems with segments of the population, not because I hold Wiccan or Islamic churches in the same contempt as racist ones.