Thursday, December 24, 2015

Why is the Post knuckling under on D.C. vouchers?

On Dec 19 the Washington Post ran an editorial titled “Knuckling under on D.C. vouchers” deploring Congress’s refusal to expand the D.C. school voucher program. 

Here is a portion
of the original article followed by comments:

"Left by the wayside — despite pleas from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) — was a five-yearreauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that allows children from low-income families to attend private schools with federal vouchers. The program was created in 2004 as part of a three-pronged investment in D.C. public education that funds the vouchers and provides extra allocations of federal dollars to the public school system and public charter schools. Indeed, the three-sector federal approach has brought more than $600 million to D.C. schools, with traditional public schools receiving $239 million, public charter schools $195 million and the voucher program $183 million. The vouchers have allowed thousands of students, predominantly minorities, to attend private schools. Parents of scholarship students have extolled the benefits of school choice and the positive impact of better schooling on their children’s lives. Interest in the program, according to its administrators, has never been higher."

Responses Here are replies by LaborLawyer and myself.  – Edd Doerr
LaborLawyer 12/19/2015

Given that taxpayer $ is already supporting two K-12 school systems in DC, what rationale -- other than helping parents send their children to religious schools -- is there for the voucher program?

Parents who do not like their regular neighborhood school, can apply to regular out-of-neighborhood schools. Parents who do not like any of the regular schools, can apply to a wide variety of charter schools. Why do parents need yet another option? This editorial fails to even attempt to offer an answer to this obvious question.

Two possible answers -- 1) the WaPo editorial board wants to encourage parents sending their children to religious schools; and 2) the WaPo editorial board wants to weaken the DC teachers union. I'd say the answer is almost certainly #2. The WaPo editorial board has long been irrationally hostile to teachers unions, public sector unions, and unions in general.

(And no, I'm not a union "mouthpiece"; in 30+ years practicing labor law, I represented govt and management, never unions or employees. I have, however, been reading the WaPo editorials for many years and, given my real-world knowledge regarding the good/bad/ugly of unions, am surprised by the WaPo editorial board's irrational animosity towards unions -- particularly the public sector unions which have relatively little economic power and whose impact is largely limited to providing some protection against arbitrary or invidious management action.)

Edd Doerr 12/19/2015 1:00 PM EST
Excellent comment. As for the voucher plan forcing all taxpayers to support pervasively sectarian private schools, it should be clear that this means violating every taxpayer's right not to be compelled by government to support religious institutions. James Madison made this point in his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, which was the forerunner to the First Amendment.

Let me cite a Washington Post editorial from March 3, 1971: "Americans have every right, of course, to seek for their children a religiously oriented education and to send their children to private schools which provide the sort of religious orientation they want. But they have no more right to ask the general public to,pay for such schools -- and for the religious instruction they provide -- than to ask the general public to pay for the churches in which, happily, they are free to gather for prayer and for worship as they please. The religious schools are organs of a church. The public schools are organs of a secular authority, the state. Would it not ne wiser, as the Founders of the Republic concluded, to keep church and state altogether separate?"

The Post ran a similar editorial on June 21, 1969.

Edd Doerr (

12/19/2015 10:20 AM EST
The DC school voucher plan is paid for by US taxpayers nationwide -- and US taxpayers have made it clear that they oppose vouchers. The 2015 Gallup education poll showed opposition at 57% to 31%. State referendums from coast to coast -- 28 of them from 1966 to 2014 -- have shown that Americans oppose vouchers and their variants by 2 to 1. In 1981 DC voters defeated a school voucher plan by 89% to 11%. DC's city council majority opposes vouchers. A coalition of over 50 national religious, educational, civic and civil rights organizations told Congress in October that they oppose vouchers. Why on earth are the Post's editors so keen on vouchers? It makes no sense. Who does not see that diverting public funds to sectarian and other private schools through vouchers or tax credits can only fragment our student population along religious, ideological, social class, ethnic and other lines while undermining our public schools?

No comments: