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Leadership Position Papers
2000 California Proposition 38:
Problems for Both Traditional Private Schools and Homeschools
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If passed, Proposition 38 on Californias November 2000 ballot will create a phased-in voucher program that provides every parent with about $4,000 per child to be used for private education. While the goal of making private education available to all is commendable, the voucher creates serious problems for both private schools and homeschools (which operate as private schools in California).
The key issues are these:
1) More regulation for private schools that accept vouchers
Administrative regulations will be required for the program to function. They must address questions such as how to verify information provided by private schools, how to determine that children actually exist, how to deal with the fact that illegal aliens may qualify for vouchers, and how to fund and operate the bureaucracy necessary to answer the above questions as well as to process quarterly enrollment reports, payments, and mid-year transfers and dropouts. This will include additional regulation and reporting for voucher-receiving schools.
Tests required by the initiative are the same as those used by government schools. As these tests become more and more aligned with the national education goals, they will tend to drive the curriculum of private schools in the same direction as that of government schools.
Private schools are likely to become dependent upon the additional funding paying teachers higher wages, beginning sorely-needed building projects, upgrading their materials, etc. When more regulations are imposed they will be unable to stop taking vouchers.
2) The ¾ vote requirement is not a secure "firewall"
Fraud, mismanagement, sexual impropriety, or racist teaching all could give the legislature grounds for requiring more oversight of voucher-receiving schools. Such situations are likely all it will take to easily persuade our legislators to surmount the 3/4 vote requirement to enact new regulations for private schools.
The state might also pass legislation (e.g., non-discrimination regarding sexual orientation in hiring) that applies to all "institutions" that receive government funding without targeting private schools in particular. Courts are likely to see this as justifiable since it applies so broadly.
Yet another avenue for breaching the firewall might be controls that come from the federal level to schools that receive any federal funding.
3) Schools that refuse vouchers will find it difficult to compete
Most parents will prefer to pay nothing rather than spend their own $4,000 to send their child to a school that wishes to retain its autonomy by refusing the voucher. Few will understand the ramifications of government regulation well enough to be willing to pay the difference in cost. Consequently, many schools that refuse vouchers are likely to go out of business.
4) The cost of K-12 education will increase dramatically
With vouchers available to all parents in California, there will be pressure from both schools and parents to increase the dollar amount of vouchers to keep up with rising tuition costs. Schools will continually readjust tuition charges to "whatever the market will bear." Thus, we will almost certainly see a repeat of what has happened with higher education costs. In 1943, before the G.I. Bill was passed, private college tuition averaged $2,570 a year in constant 1995 dollars. By 1995, average tuition had risen to the equivalent of almost six times as much money--$14,510. (Vouchers and Educational Freedom: A Debate, Policy Analysis, March 12, 1997, p. 36.)
5) The voucher poses major problems for homeschools
Three major homeschool organizations--Christian Home Educators Association (CHEA) of California, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Private and Home Educators of California--oppose Proposition 38 for reasons such as the following. [Position papers are available at www.cheaofca.org]
The voucher will invite legislation that identifies homeschools as a category separate from private schools. Any such law is bound to include more regulation and oversight of homeschoolers than exists under present law. The most likely result: homeschoolers will not be able to get vouchers AND they will be saddled with more restrictions and requirements than before.
While other attempts to regulate homeschoolers are possible, homeschoolers are in a much better position to mount their defense if they do not take government money.
6) Vouchers weaken the social responsibility of families
"Nowhere is the vitality of families today more dramatically expressed than in the inspiring willingness of millions of American parents to save up to ensure a safe and rigorous education for their children. Moreover, this willingness is the highest sign of social responsibility. [T]hese families are making a major investment in the future of the country, and in the human capital on which coming generations will depend" (George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty, New York: Basic Books, 1981, p. 91).
Proposition 38 offers taxpayer-funded vouchers to all families, including those already able to pay for their own childrens education. The sacrifice and commitment exhibited by families who pay their own private school tuition has a subtle but strong influence on childrens views of education, family relationships, and, oftentimes, the religious mission of their schools. Taypayer funding of private education undermines the message of personal, social responsibility by families. As George Gilder would say, we lose "social capital."
7) But we need to do SOMETHING!
Yes, but there are better and safer ways to rescue children. Some that come to mind are:
Desperate solutions are rarely the best. We must not harm private schools and homeschools in an attempt to accomplish other goals. After all, if we undermine private schools, which are the vehicle Prop. 38 relies upon for rescuing children from failing government schools, then the voucher will have become useless.
There are additional principled and practical reasons to oppose Prop. 38, but perhaps some folks will pause to consider a few of these concerns before taking a position on this initiative.
Cathy Duffy is the author of the Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manuals and Government Nannies as well as president of Grove Publishing. She helped create the Childrens Scholarship Fund program in Los Angeles in 1998 and served as its executive director. She is in no way associated with the California Teachers Association, has repeatedly worked against CTA legislation over the years, and is almost always in direct philosophical opposition to this unions radical agenda.
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