Sunday, March 06, 2005

More "liberal education"

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:39 PM |  

From the "Power Liberal in response to a response to this post (my comments in bold)--

Thanks for the reply!I'll post it and see if I can get a little feedback for you. I can tell you right now my gut reaction to your question is that if you take money away from underperforming schools, you are dooming them to even worse failure. And by doing that, you are inherently taking away school choice anyway, leaving private schools as the only viable school option.

Several things. First, the proposed bill doesn't "take" money. A student leaves, a portion of the allocated funding for that student follows her. The school retains a portion of the funding with one less student to teach. Result is more money per student, fewer students to teach. Isn't that what schools are asking for?

Second, students are leaving districts now and no funding remains with the district. Vouchers merely offer that opportunity to low-income families, plus less funding leaves the district.

Third, failure is not relative. What you are asking is for poor kids to remain in a failing school (or a good school that doesn't meet their needs) to subsidize the system. What is the ethical principle that says poor kids must sacrifice their educational opportunity for the sake of a system that is failing them?

Fourth, if your scenario plays out, and people choose to leave public schools in the numbers you suggest, what does that say about the quality of public schools? If all public schools are that bad (and I don't believe they are), why would we want to subsidize and perpetuate the failure?

I can't see private schools as the solution necessary to fixing this problem. Private schools are already beginning to face the same overcrowding and underfunding issues that public schools have faced for decades (Holy Angels is a good example). Plus, you seems to be making a two tier private school system (one the people can afford to go to with vouchers, one that's more "exclusive," as you called it. Why is that better or more efficient than having public and private schools?

Again, couple of points. When private schools face problems they have options. They have individual control. Not all private schools will succeed, just as there will always be good and bad public schools. The difference is in the private school system if a school's situation becomes too bad, parents have the option to leave. There is motivation to address problems. That currently is not the case in public schools that have a captive base of students without that option.

Regarding a two-tier system: Remember life is a bell-shaped curve. "Exclusive" private schools are the minority at the margin. The majority of private schools are going to address the majority of income levels. Private schools are inherently more efficient because they must be accountable directly to parents that have option to take their tuition money to a different school if they are not satisfied. Competition will improve public schools (or kill them). Since the voucher program was implemented in Milwaukee, the graduation rate for both private and public schools has improved.

Since student already have school choice due to open enrollment, I can't help but see this as a way to encourage more funds to private, and primarily religious schools. Well over 3/4s of the schools listed on the MDE website as Private schools were obviously of a religious denomination. I believe religious views should be taught to my children by myself and the pastor of my given denomination, and not taken up by teachers during the school week. And so do the founders of the State Constitution. You state that the amendment was a result of anti-Catholic bigotry, and maybe it was back when it was written, but I have yet to see anyone try and amend the Constitution to repeal it, and I've seen in the last few years that there are many politicians who are zealously into bringing up constitutional changes if they believe the document is wrong.

Open enrollment provides choice within the system, but it is still within the system, which limits the opportunities for diversity. Open enrollment is not a "choice" for a family that hasn't the means (or the desire) to send a child across town to a school. The "voucher" system enables a family to send its children to a neighborhood private school, which is viable in most areas of the Twin Cities, taking into account religious schools.

On the religious school issue: Many religious schools, while sponsored by churches and teach based on the value system of a specific church, do not teach denominational religion per se. Trinity Catholic in St. Paul, for example, has Buddhist children enrolled in the school. Schools like First Trinity Lutheran, where only a minority of students are Lutheran and the majority of students have no church affiliation, are the rule rather than the exception.

Because we are not doing away with public schools, if keeping religion out of the classroom is important to a parent they have that option -- given the choice of a quality education with exposure to religion, other parents might make a different choice. Why prohibit that choice to poor parents?

Third, although the "Blaine Amendment" (1877) is an anti-Catholic measure, it legally serves a purpose. It (rightly) prevents the state from setting up by mandate the kind of system you fear that vouchers will. The state cannot constitutionally fund a public system of education and a "sectarian" system of education, be it Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever. Despite its origins, the amendment serves a valid purpose. The amendment does not, however, legally apply to a "voucher" system where individual parents decide among a diversity of choices where to send their children to school without any coercion by the state.

(Your implication is wrong, however, that the amendment intended to keep religion out of schools. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many public school teachers were protestant ministers. The protestant Bible was used in many schools as a reading text. Public schools were de facto generic protestant schools, which is why the amendment specifically states "sectarian" schools -- to contrast with and permit "non-denominational" geneic protestantism.)

So that's it in a nutshell. Hopefully my readers will have some more input.

(PS - I couldn't find anything on the PCE site regarding local tuition costs. Could you tell me where on the site that was? I tried all of the Resource Links and School Choice Links.)

The figure was quoted at the press conference announcing the legislation. If it is not on the PCE website and you want verification, give them a call. You might also check with the Minnesota Independent School Forum, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, or Senator Hann's office. From my visits to private schools, I have no reason to doubt the figure.
Let's give credit where credit is due. The "Power Liberal" is demonstrating a wilingness to engage that is extremely refreshing. The questions are the right ones, the kind of intelligent questions a skeptical person should be asking -- the kind that usually aren't asked because name-calling and motive questioning is easier. The Power Liberal, a blogger, is demonstrating far more professionalism than those that claim "professional" is an adjective that automatically attaches to a title.