Monday, July 9, 2012

Are Private Schools Still Private with Vouchers?

Private schools enjoy many privileges that public schools do not have. Some privileges will vary from state to state. They get to be selective about their population. They get to select their own curriculum. They can schedule the school day and school year in any manner they choose. They get to select which standardized test to use, whether it is the newer, state-mandated No Child Left Behind exam or a long-standing test such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They can also choose not to administer a standardized test at all. If the school is affiliated with a religious institution, they get to stay true to their beliefs without fear of First Amendment lawsuits. They can impose and enforce dress codes, such as the use of uniforms. They can invest in the latest technology or send their teachers out to conferences for continual professional development without the public crying "waste." They can remove students who cannot or will not perform academically and/or behaviorally. Though there are private schools out there that accept or even specialize in teaching students with disabilities, they are not obligated to do so. The ring of education reformers and media pundits only focus on these schools' ability to fire ineffective teachers with ease, but as you can see, these schools have a host of other advantages over their public school counterparts. 

If voucher supporters get what they want and every student is given a voucher to spend at the school of their choice, which could include private schools, will these schools continue to enjoy the many privileges they have? Will they now have to accept every student? Will they have to accept students whose families do not share the same religious beliefs? Will they have to follow the state curriculum and administer the state exam? Will they have to reduce their level of religious instruction? Will they be able to enforce the wearing of school uniforms? Will their staff compensation and other expenditures be subject to public scrutiny? Will they have to retain every student regardless of their performance?

My answer is yes. Just as I predicted that controversy would arise when a non-Christian religious school applies for voucher funds, I predict that a few years after the installation of a voucher program, lawsuits will spring forth demanding that private schools do X and Y because "they accept public funding." At that point, these private schools that once had so much freedom will cease to be truly private. 

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