Utah’s School Choice Could Crack "Separation" Argument

20 02 2007
Filed under: Mark Wolf, Utah School Vouchers, Politics, Humanism, Christianity

Mark Bergin outlines Utah’s House of Representatives’ passage of a bill for universal school vouchers on Feb 1 that passed by a razor think margin of 38 – 37.

Advocates for school choice celebrated what could prove a landmark victory. The bill is expected to cruise past Utah’s Republican-controlled Senate and GOP governor Jon Huntsman Jr., establishing the country’s first statewide voucher program for all students.

Under the “Parents Choice in Education Act,” any public-school student could receive between $500 and $3,000 depending on family income to help pay for a switch to private-school tuition. Among students already enrolled in private schools, only those with low incomes would be eligible for the program. But all new kindergartners would qualify, opening the voucher system to everyone by 2020.

Numerous prior attempts to pass such legislation in the Utah House stalled as opponents decried the redirection of funding away from public schools. This bill undermines that charge by granting public schools funding for departed students up to five years after they leave. That provision will increase the public schools’ dollars per student as more families opt out, potentially reaching an equilibrium whereby public schools have the increased financial resources to deliver strong competition to their private counterparts.

In the run-up to the House vote, Rep. Steve Urquhart, the bill’s chief sponsor, argued passionately on his website, politicopia.com, that public schools would financially benefit from the voucher program. He challenged all comers to prove otherwise, which they could not.

Such productive bottom-line debates helped knife through the rhetoric of church-state separation that often bogs down discussions of school choice. Urquhart succeeded in convincing at least one fellow legislator to abandon his past anti-voucher commitments. Rep. Brad Last, a former public-school official who voted against vouchers as a member of the Education Committee, shocked the chamber with a yes vote this time around. “I believe history will demonstrate to supporters and detractors that this is a good choice,” he said. “To those of you in public education who want to kill me right now, I’m really sorry. I understand your pain. I would ask you, go read this bill, and don’t say a word to me until you read this bill.”

Studies of these various school-choice programs reveal far higher satisfaction rates among parents and measurably higher achievement levels among students. Nevertheless, teachers unions and strict church-state separatists remain fiercely committed to maintaining centralized public control of K-12 education. They contend that private schools lack accountability to maintain high academic standards and that parents choosing to spend tax dollars on religious schools amounts to a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

But such arguments may be losing traction among the American public. A Utah poll conducted last month for local news outlets found that 48 percent of state residents favor voucher or tax-credit programs while 46 percent oppose them. Those numbers represent substantial movement from last year’s poll when 54 percent opposed and 40 percent supported. Should national opinion mirror that trend, Utah may be only the beginning.

This assertion that parents choosing to spend tax dollars on religious schools amounts to a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause is absurd. The same argument could be made for the function of public schools now. They only want to indoctrinate kids with humanism and intentionally lock religion out.

The Christian worldview recognizes humanism for what it is – a religion and a worldview all on its own. Heck, we’ve even got an activist judge on the record now declaring loud and proud that public schools exist for the sole purpose of indoctrinating children with humanism:

“The schools are exposing youngsters to something that is the law of the community they life in. The parents seem to know about it and can teach the children that they believe it is wrong,” said Judge Mark Wolf, who will decide whether to dismiss the suit.”Almost all moral education is indoctrination,” Wolf said. “It’s the reason we have public schools. We’re preparing people for citizenship.”

This next part is a classic:

He pointed out that the parents had the option of enrolling their children in private schools, or of lobbying the school board to have the curriculum changed.

What hypocracy from the Left! Can you imagine the ACLU’s reaction to a judge that told its plaintiff they could just change schools if they didn’t like being offended? Ha! What an outrage.

Sinsheimer, representing the parents, said that opposition to the teaching is a minority viewpoint in their town and that they would face an uphill battle in any lobbying effort.

Why is it an uphill battle for a Christian if they are in the minority in their town? If ONE PERSON gets offended by anything religious, they have an easy chance of having religion expelled at worst, and a monetary settlement at best. But when a Christian faces the same battle, it’s perceived as uphill from the attorney and apparently the sitting judge too.

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