Friday, December 12, 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around For Voucher Advocates

A funny thing happened to conservative groups advocating school voucher money for private sectarian schools. Keep in mind these groups have not only been trying to get legislation passed to fund private schools with taxpayer dollars, but they’ve also been persuing constitutional amendments cementing the privatization of our educational system with unaccountable vouchers. Now pro-voucher groups are finding out past generations made similar arguments, and it’s now effecting their efforts to do away with public schools. Ouch!

Here’s what the Philadelphia newspaper The Bulletin is reporting:

Arizona’s teachers’ union challenged the state’s two school-voucher programs in the Arizona Supreme Court this week, citing a law educational-choice supporters say was explicitly written to curb Catholic education. A lower court ruled against the programs in May on the basis that public money mustn’t go toward private or “sectarian” education under state law. But voucher advocates argue the provision forbidding such expenditures (Article IX, Section 10 of the Arizona Constitution), emerged from nationwide efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to preserve public schools’ Protestant character in response to heavy Catholic immigration.
Oops! It appears the unintended consequences of protecting one religious group from another, and writing it into the constitution, has come back to haunt sectarian schools of today from getting public funding. That doesn’t mean they won’t ignore the irony. Take for instance the beautifully marketed, conservatively titled “Institute for Justice,” who is making the case the language in the Arizona Constitution reflects religious bias. See if you can spot any such biased reference:

Article IX, Section 10 reads, “No tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation.” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty contends the law is a “Blaine Amendment” born of religious bias … “sectarian” simply means “Catholic.” The federal amendment failed but about 35 states adopted their own versions.

I know, I failed to spot a religious preference in the Article’s language too. The teachers union’s director of public relations, John Hartsell, summed it up honestly and precisely this way in the article:

He said the constitutional provision against state aid to religious schools does not distinguish between faiths either in letter or in spirit. Hartsell however said vouchers frustrate state residents’ ability to ensure that their tax money is well

“We believe that private school vouchers essentially are
accountability waivers for public dollars.”


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