School Choice and Freedom Go Hand in Hand

This week, the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey M. Burke deftly dismantled an argument by Politico reporter Stephanie Simon that since some private schools teach that God created the world, everyone should oppose vouchers.

Simon takes issue specifically with schools teaching Creationism or intelligent design. She states:

Decades of litigation have established that public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design. But private schools receiving public subsidies can — and do.

She goes on to broadly detail how terrible many private school curricula are, using their coursework as the basis of her argument against school choice and the use of public funds for vouchers.

Their course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists,” she writes, suggesting this is very prevalent in private schools.

This, of course, is a conclusion derived from POLITICO combing through “hundreds of pages of course outlines, textbooks, and school websites.”

But even if it’s the case that certain schools teach creationism, and not the same exact tenets taught at public schools, Burke contends that’s just fine. School choice is still good for parents and children. She argues from the perspective of both legal precedent upholding school choice and philosophical arguments in favor of school choice.

Burke notes that the Supreme Court via an Establishment Clause challenge against school choice, as part of the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, upheld in a 5-4 majority opinion the constitutionality of allowing parents to use public funds to go to private religious schools:

Under such a program, government aid reaches religious institutions only by way of the deliberate choices of numerous individual recipients. The incidental advancement of a religious mission, or the perceived endorsement of a religious message, is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits.

(Simon also cites this case on the third page of her article.)

Burke also recalls how Milton Friedman predicted arguments like Simon’s and warned against the extreme result they could produce saying:

Schools run by different religious groups will, it can be argued, instill sets of values that are inconsistent with one another and with those instilled in other schools; in this way they convert education into a divisive rather than a unifying force…Carried to its extreme, this argument would call not only for governmentally administered schools, but also for compulsory attendance at such schools.

And Oregon tried just that when they enacted a law requiring all students to attend public schools. The Supreme Court struck the law down in 1925.

Burke notes, “The philosophical and legal underpinnings of school choice have been well established.”

“Catholic school students do score significantly higher than public school students on national standardized tests in math and reading,” admits Simon. Yet, she still seems adamantly opposed to school choice and vouchers that allow parents to send their children to the school of their choice.

Where do you fall in this debate? As conservatives, we know all students fare best in education when their parents are intimately involved and when parents have a variety of educational choices that best suit the needs of their children. If you support school choice, tell Congress.


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