School vouchers: GOP trojan horse?

By Steve Farrell
web posted April 1999

If ever there were a time for a wake up call within the rank and file of the Republican Party, it is here and now. Surely, there is a gnawing feeling emerging that the party falls woefully short of offering a legitimate and principled alternative.

And the proof is in the pudding: a continued policy of budget compromises, a Contract With America which promised a return to "the brilliance and wisdom of the founders" but delivered further centralization, and a weak sistered, skip the real issues, embrace the scandals centered impeachment, have collectively and conspicuously confirmed the long held suspicion that the Grand Old Party is not so grand after all.

Supporting evidence, in fact, lies all around us. Consider the Republican Party's Holy Grail quest for taxpayer funded education vouchers, a cause they have fought for, at least since the days of Richard Nixon, which uses tax dollars to pay parents to send their children to private rather than public schools.

One can readily empathize with their motives. Pure and simple, the public school system is a rotten carcus and parents are desperate. Privatization, therefore, is the answer, and school vouchers, it seems, the method. And its supporters do have more than a few good reasons to suppose that this is the preferred route.

First there is the free choice argument. Truly free societies do not mandate and protect a self perpetuating monopoly of state education, via taxation, compulsory attendance laws, and state licensure of all educators public and private. Nor do they strip the natural right of parents to decide where, when, and how, their child will be educated. They realize checks upon free markets and natural rights, in the realm of education, are a key to fulfilling Marx's dream for a well ordered totalitarian community, but no boon at all to free speech, free thinking, and excellence in education.

Wisdom, they say, dictates an abandonment of schools for socialism in favor of schools for liberty, and privatization is the great key. Yet, realists work for change by degrees. They understand that the swift abolition of the state school system is politically unattainable, if it is, at this late date, attainable at all. The school voucher becomes their safe middle ground, simply giving disenchanted parents the right to reclaim their cash and their child from the state and its sub-inferior education, and to invest them both, in a far-superior private education. Reasonable? So it seems.

Second, there is the free market argument. Let the public schools, like every good or service in the private sector, compete for dollars, and then marvel at how much more efficient they become, how much more customer oriented, how soon they are rescued from the dull mediocrity of statism to the sharp high flying achievement of private enterprise. Placing a government voucher in the hands of parents to invest in the education of their choice will turn the focus of administrators and teachers to satisfying their customer, not the state. Reasonable? So it seems.

Third, there is the virtuous republic argument. It declares, as did founder John Adams, that "our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people only," and "is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." Yet, public schools, aided by Supreme Court decisions which inverted freedom of religion into freedom from religion, first outlawed and then became hostile to those two things which most support liberty.

The result of such a policy produces as Ben Franklin warned, "[a] people...corrupted in their manners...[who] require more masters," and that's the point.

School vouchers then, by enabling tens of millions of parents to send their kids to schools where academic studies are balanced with moral perspective, will help raise up future generations where morality matters, where certain broad laws and rights become fixed as eternal verities, and where liberty is then given better odds for a long and prosperous future. Again reasonable? Certainly.

Fourth, there is the practical argument. Many state school systems are grappling with problems of growth. The school voucher provides an escape valve for the mounting pressure of student enrollment and bond issue battles. Reasonable? Sure.

Fifth, there is Milton Friedman's equality of outcomes argument. Prosperous whites, he insisted, have long had the option of sending their children to superior private schools. Why then should not inner city minority parents have the same option? A private school system whose ticket price excludes the poor, he said, is a source today for further class and race stratification in society. The answer again - school vouchers. School vouchers, gives each person, including the black gifted student, an equal right to attend superior schools. Reasonable? From his perspective, yes.

Indeed, all five arguments stand to reason, however, they unravel in the face of one very fundamental flaw - their sidestepping of the law of subsidy. The Supreme Court, as far back as Everson v. Board of Education in 1947, in a similar case of indirect aid to private schools, cautioned, "if the state may aid these religious schools, it may therefore regulate them."

It's a very simple principle. Subsidies, whether direct or indirect equal control, and will bye and bye wrap their attractive coils around careless recipients, until the circle is complete, and the liberty destroying squeeze begins.

As a veteran, for instance, my VA education benefit was denied because I chose to attend an exclusive private religious school which was not on the VA's list of "approved" schools. So much for blindly believing that indirect educational aid will not prescribe rules on the private sector and freedom of choice. This schools sin, was that it wisely refused to participate in federal and state financial aid programs, lest curriculum controls follow. For which they should be commended.

But very few private schools, religious or otherwise, have shown a similar will to resist the cash flow. In turn, many have found themselves compromising their values and independence as the government has mandated hiring practices, co-ed dormitories, and watered down curriculums stripped of religion and patriotism.

That's why Marx, certainly nobody's dummy, included in his ten plank plan to undermine the most advanced capitalist nations - "free education." That is government paid for and thus government controlled education. School vouchers, in this sense, are nothing less than Marx's plan for "free education" going after the last remnants of truly free education.

Further, they provide yet another avenue for the forced redistribution of the wealth

And so here is the stealthful hypocrisy of the Republican Party, a party which preaches like the founders but practices like the Fabians. Their penchant for putting forth proposals to cure socialism with socialism, while pretending all along that theirs is the free market plan, is clear evidence that they are not a legitimate alternative to the Democratic Party, but very possibly, a Trojan Horse.

Steve Farrell is a freelance writer, a Ph.D. candidate in constitutional law, and a former Air Force Communications Security manager. Please email your comments to Mr. Farrell at

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