Last week, I wrote enthusiastically about Utah's chance to have school vouchers. By now, we know whether voters said yes or no.
Either way, while a voucher experiment is a good thing, and far superior to a government-run monopoly, I wonder if I wasn't too enthusiastic.
As Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman magazine and author of Separating School and State, puts it: "'Public' money going to private schools cannot bode well for the future of those schools. Note that the Utah law requires private schools to give a nationally recognized exam -- one approved by the national education establishment. But he who controls the exam controls the curriculum. Schools will have to teach to the test. That will limit innovation and make the private schools more like the public schools."
Maybe the government can't really create choice affirmatively.
We know that government money comes with strings. Federal highway funds came with requirements for seat-belt laws and 55-mile-per-hour speed limits.
In the 1970s, Grove City College in Pennsylvania was ordered to certify that it complied with Title IX, which outlaws sex discrimination. The private liberal-arts school was not accused of discrimination but nevertheless objected to the order on grounds that it took no federal money. The feds insisted, saying that since some students received federal scholarships, that amounted to an indirect subsidy from the government. Grove City took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court -- and lost.
It would be astounding if the government didn't put conditions on its grants. In fact, not to do so would appear irresponsible. That's a good reason to avoid taking government money in the first place.
Even without direct conditions, government money taints its recipients. Education scholar Charles Glenn wrote in 1989, "For those who believe strongly in religious schooling and fear that government influence will come with public funding, reason exists for their concern. Catholic or Protestant schools in [France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, and West Germany] have increasingly been assimilated to the assumptions and guiding values of public schooling. This process does not [even] seem to be the result of deliberate efforts . . . but rather of the difficulty, for a private school playing by public rules, to maintain its distance from the common assumptions and habits of the predominant system".