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Vouchers Debated

by Sybil Maimin
Would education vouchers for private schools bring access to quality education to all students or would vouchers threaten the Constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state (the great preponderance of private schools are religious)?This increasingly troublesome dilemma was recently debated at The American Jewish Committee AJC) by Dr. Charles L. Glenn, professor of education administration, training, and policy studies at Boston University, and Dr. Roscoe Brown, president emeritus of Bronx Community College.

Dr. Glenn,who helped design the l974 Boston school desegregation decision, believes vouchers, as well as charter schools, are inevitable and necessary for reform. Opponents should end their fight and join in discussions of how to most effectively structure them. He does not believe vouchers threaten separation of church and state and noted that public funds already go to religious day care as well as college and teen programs. Vouchers for religious schools would reinforce the fundamental right of parents to decide what values they want taught to their children and allow for the free exercise of religion as protected in the Constitution.Referring to the public schools as a monopoly, he emphasized that they were failing the poor and disadvantaged while parochial schools have consistently shown greater successes with this population. With the competition created by vouchers, public schools will be forced to improve.

Dr. Brown, also a passionate devotee of equity in education, countered that the real issue is school reform, and we should not devote energy to preservation of privilege and separateness. In our very mixed society, our best hope is the public schools. Despite the naysayers, efforts at improvement are underway and include alternative schools, greater flexibility in teacher assignments, school-based management, and New Vision schools.Politics plays a role, and the public must get involved and demand better schools.

An AJC background paper takes issue with some arguments in favor of vouchers. Setting up competition between public and private schools is inherently unfair because public schools must accept and keep all students while private ones can be selective. Remonstrations by private school parents against double taxation do not consider that single, childless, and retired people also pay school taxes. The Constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion means government cannot interfere; it does not mean funding.The supposition that vouchers will improve educational quality in all schools ignores the probability that moneys for vouchers will be skimmed from public school budgets thereby weakening these already troubled institution.Since almost 90 percent of American children attend public schools, this could be very troubling.

Sanders Opposes School Vouchers Commenting on the Wisconsin school voucher program and the decision by the United States Supreme Court not to rule on its constitutionality, Assemblyman Steven Sanders, Chairman of the Education committee stated, “New York State has historically maintained a clear separation between the funding of elementary and secondary public schools and aid to private or religious schools. “New York State has never provided any direct or indirect public financial assistance to offset tuition fees or for the general support of those schools. This distinction is wise and this separation must be continued in New York State. Therefore I will steadfastly oppose any voucher or tax credit legislation that may come before my Committee for consideration.”

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