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Another view on vouchers

Issue: "School vouchers debate," May 15, 1999

Not every opponent of publicly funded school choice is a member of a leftist teachers' union or the People for the American Way. Some Christians and conservatives oppose tax-financed vouchers, but they do so for unique reasons. They're concerned about the effect vouchers will have on private education, not public schools. For one thing, voucher schools won't come cheap, at least in the long run. Government subsidies routinely increase prices in areas ranging from health care to higher education. Increased costs then lead to calls for more subsidies, leading to a profligate circle that is almost impossible to break. "The history of state and federal subsidy of post-secondary education has been one of declining quality at an escalating cost," writes conservative voucher critic Douglas Dewey. "Do we want private elementary and secondary education to follow the same path?" An even greater downside to vouchers is that government regulations inevitably will-indeed should-follow tax dollars to private schools. If taxpayers are forced to fund a private school, then it's only right that their representatives have a say in how that school is run. But this essential and proper oversight will jeopardize the very elements that make Christian schools so effective. There's no way around it: Christian schools simply cannot accept tax dollars without also, eventually, accepting taxpayer values. This is one reason why the separation of church and state, far from being an anti-Christian or leftist concept, is essential to the church's health. Most people don't realize it, but throughout American history evangelicals (especially Baptists and Southern Presbyterians) have been some of the staunchest advocates of the independence of religious institutions. These Christians pointed out that the evangelical church tends to be strongest in countries where governments don't fund churches. A look at the religious situation in the United States and Western Europe shows that this pattern holds today. School choice could be a siren song for private schools and the church; however sweet it sounds in theory, it likely will be destructive in practice. Does this mean we should turn our backs on poor children in failing schools? Absolutely not. A much better solution than government subsidies is growing every year-privately funded vouchers. Fritz Steiger of CEO America, a pro-voucher organization, told WORLD that the number of students in its affiliate programs attending private schools with privately funded vouchers will grow from about 13,000 this year to over 50,000 next year. This is a good start to build upon. Christians could help spread the gospel and materially help the poor by making the Christian education of poor children a high priority in their giving. If public policy must be involved, tax credits would be far less dangerous than vouchers. Arizona allows its residents a credit if they contribute to the education of a poor child. Such programs could encourage people to help poor children without the government middle-man. Voucher advocates are correct to want to increase access to private schooling. The growth of private education-including homeschooling, one of the most important movements of the last few decades-is essential to the health of American education and American liberty. But let's just make sure that private schools remain private.
-by Timothy Lamer

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Timothy Lamer
Timothy Lamer

Tim is managing editor of WORLD magazine.

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