Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Subsidizing Religious Education

It's the last year of the presidency, and President Bush gave his last State of the Union address, as mandated by the Constitution.

In it, President Bush alluded to the Surge, implying that it's successful because violence is down. I still believe it's going to be years before one can determine if the Surge was successful, because what it was intended to do was allow the Iraqi government room to function as a government, which it has yet to do, and until that happens, the Surge cannot be considered a success.

But more to the topic at hand, President Bush urged Congress to work more on No Child Left Behind, and particularly to fund a voucher program for religious schools, as reported on Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

I have no issue with private schooling. I'm a product of public schools, and I think I turned out all right, but I know that there are private schools out there that offer exceptional educations and exceptional opportunities for college and college success, and if I could get my children into one of those, I would. But there are problems when it comes to funding parochial education with public funds. First off, when the church receives government funds, then the government can have a say in what the church does. The government gets to use the carrot to compel the church to teach in a particular manner, or to not teach in a particular matter. While the schools would have the opportunity to say no and turn down the money, it's not a stretch to imagine that these same schools would yield to the state due to a dependence on these funds (look at the highway earmarks and drinking ages as an example). I don't want my government telling my church what to do, and support programs that would keep this from happening.

That's not the only problem with voucher programs, though. In my children's elementary school, there are about 800 students. In the high school they would go to if we were to stay in the same area, there are approximately 5000 students. There are 4 high schools and about 30 elementary schools in the district. In this area, there are 8 private schools. I don't know what the total enrollment of those private schools are, but I would highly doubt there would be room for all the students from our district, let alone all the schoolchildren from all the Houston area districts to attend. What does that mean? It means that the private schools would get to choose who got to use the vouchers, and who didn't. And what criteria would the private school use to select who got to go? A lottery? An essay contest? No. They would choose the students who would best be able to maintain the esteem, image, and prestige of the private school, and reject those who are problem children, or who are not as academically successful, or who look dirty, or whatever. In other words, they would choose the children from the "failing" (to use the President's word) public schools who least need the boost into private schools, and leave the public schools with the rejects.

Consider that for a moment. The Government tells you that your school is failing. Then the Government gives these golden tickets to let you go to a school that it says is not failing. Then that school does not choose the student because he's not good enough. Now what do you have? You have a rejected student in a failing school being told that he's getting a lesser education and there's nothing he can do about it. Well, I can see the happy ending there, can't you?

Yet, that's not even the end of the problems. While many private parochial schools do provide outstanding educations for their students, there are scores more that do not. One of the problems with simplifying the education problem as the President has done is that it presumes that "private" or "parochial" necessarily means "better." So not only do we run the risk of alienating students by telling them that they must be left behind in a failing school whose funds have been stripped by No Child Left Behind to help the select few students get a private education, but many of those dollars will go to private schools who provide an even worse education than the school that is allegedly failing the students. Sign me up!

Finally, the President's plan ignores one of the biggest issues of all. The No Child Left Behind Act presumes that the academic problems of this country all stem from teachers in a failed system failing their students. It does not consider the problems with parents, bad parents, poor parents, drunk parents, hooker parents, absentee parents, abusive parents, crime infested neighborhoods, drug infested neighborhoods, children who have to work at night to help pay the rent, children who have to watch their siblings because their parents have to work nights, children with emotional issues that need assistance (one of the casualties of the current charter school concept that takes monies for public education and sets it aside for the select few who get chosen to "succeed" is the guidance counselor, whose budget is not a "necessary" expenditure, because none of these students have problems outside of school), etc.

Throwing money at the educational system won't fix public education. But creating a system where monies are taken from all the students and reserved for only a few is quite possibly even worse. And doing so while undermining the concept of church-state separation, that should not be allowed to happen.

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