The Douglas County board of education, our neighbor to the north, has taken a bold step that may reverse a form of state-sanctioned bigotry that has been part of this country for more than 100 years.
The board on Tuesday approved a pilot program in which the district will make 500 vouchers available to parents who want to send their children to private schools. School boards and education experts throughout the country will be watching, and if it succeeds we can expect similar programs to become more common.
There can be no downside to freeing parents to use money, which they are forced to spend on education, however they please when it comes to their own kids. It’s not the teachers union that should have the best interests of a child at heart. It’s the child’s parents or guardians.
The voucher program will enhance school choice. That means schools and teachers will work even harder to attract students, which means schools and teachers will have to constantly improve in order to beat the competition.
Most private schools in Douglas County are religious, which means the experiment is certain to come under legal challenge. Some will view this as state funding of religious schools, and they’ll say it violates “separation of church and state.” Colorado, like 35 other states, has a Blaine Amendment in the state constitution to further complicate matters. Colorado’s Blaine amendment, adopted in 1876, prohibits the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools.
The Supreme Court, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, upheld vouchers. In the 2002 ruling, the majority determined that vouchers do not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In the simplest terms, once state money has been converted to a voucher and given to a child, it’s no longer the government’s. It belongs to the child, who is subject to the will of a parent or guardian, and not the state.
With the decision in Zelman, Blaine Amendments serve as the only remaining obstacle to vouchers. These outrageous laws may be overturned by the United States Supreme Court if they impede programs such as Douglas County’s.
In Lock v. Davey, a 2004 Supreme Court case that said a government-funded scholarship could exclude students pursuing theology degrees, the court stated the Blaine Amendments “have been linked with anti-Catholicism.”
Blaine Amendments were championed by James G. Blaine, the Republican nominee for president in 1884. Republicans campaigned for Blaine by calling Democrats the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” – a phrase that solidified Blaine’s anti-Catholic reputation.
Nothing could be more against the free exercise of religion than forcing taxpayers to fund public schools, then forcing religious taxpayers to pay for education twice – if they want their kids in religious schools.
Vouchers correct this financial hurdle to the free exercise of religion by allowing education money to facilitate the specific needs of individual children.
Colorado leads much of the country in school choice, which is the greatest hope for our economy.
- Colorado Springs Gazette
Colorado Springs Gazette