Monday, June 13, 2005

George Will on Florida school choice battle

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:28 AM |  

George Will provides his weekly vocabulary lesson while dicing the the strategy of teachers unions fighting school choice for the children of poor families in Florida, accusing them of using 19th-century bigotry and 21st-century obscurantism.

Florida opponents of Opportunity Scholarships say they violate Florida's Blaine amendment by being usable at religious schools. But, says Will, this argument has three flaws.
First, the scholarships are not "in aid of" any religious institution. Rather, they are intended to promote the general public welfare by improving, through accountability and competition, Florida's public schools. Although the program permits the use of scholarships at religious schools, it neither favors nor encourages such use, and any benefit such schools receive is merely incidental to the purpose of improving public schools.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that school-choice programs similar to Florida's "have a valid secular purpose" and involve "true private choice" because government scholarship aid goes directly to parents, who use it at their discretion. It "reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals," so any "incidental" benefit to religious institutions involves "no imprimatur of state approval."

Third, although the sort of people who fight against poor children are not very susceptible to shame, even they may be ashamed to rely on the Blaine amendment, that residue of 19th-century bigotry. Hence their reliance on the "uniformity" clause.
Will further dices the "uniformity" argument and then concludes (with a message that opponents of th Hann/Buesgens Educational Access Grant legislation ought to note) --

Why do the teachers unions fighting poor families focus only on the word "uniform"? What about the other adjectives in Florida's constitution? Does anyone think Florida is providing all students with public schools that are "efficient, safe, secure, and high quality"? Can the unions assert that without blushing? Probably.