Monday, April 07, 2003


Colorado lawmakers last week enacted a way for disadvantaged kids to afford private school and avoid lousy inner-city public schools with a voucher program heavily supported by Republican politicians and pro-minority Democrats. It will offer tuition reimbursement to an estimated 17,500 students in 11 large school districts, mostly in Denver, by the year 2007.

According to Monday's Wall Street Journal (p. A15), the program joins existing school-choice options in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida, while similar moves are under consideration in Texas, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. The Lone Star State proposal alone could involve as many as 600,000 students, evidence of momentum that may be building nationwide as the benefits of school choice are exposed, discussed and promulgated.

Will Nebraska be far behind? Probably. But let's keep this in mind:

School choice programs are only as good as the lack of governmental interference that is allowed to be tied to them. Those who are skeptical that government will be able to keep mitts off private schools even if public funding is going in to them should remain skeptical of school-choice programs. They do look an awful lot like a governmental foot in the door of private education.

That's how I stand, and will probably continue to stand. I think it makes a lot more sense to stay away from putting tax dollars into school choice programs. Instead, we should encourage private donations to private children's scholarship funds to keep the entanglement of state and federal regulations out of the private schools as much as possible while still offering equal educational opportunity to poor kids.

If Nebraska enacts a vouchers proposal, it will wind up doing more harm than good if the education establishment -- the unions and the edu-bureaucries -- are allowed to interfere, and changes are they will. It will take shape as the state education department attacking the autonomy of the private schools that receive the vouchers income with harmful accreditation and assessment requirements. They'll do it in the name of assuring the public some accountability -- but the net effect will be to morph the private schools into carbon copies of the public schools. See? A vouchers proram, in other words, has real downside potential to destroy the very alternatives -- private schools -- that make them so attractive.

The only vouchers proram that should be permitted and espoused is one modeled after the GI Bill of the post-World War II era.

When we hear politicians promise that style, then maybe we should listen.

That is, the vouchers should be given to the parents to be spent where they think best -- with no governmental strings attached on the schools that enroll those students, other than assuring that they meet the basic health, safety and statutory requirements that already are, presumably, monitored and regulated, and properly so.

Let's bring school choice to Nebraska. Let's bring free enterprise to education. But for heaven's sake, let's not allow the unions and the bureaucrats to shape it. Let's keep that role where it belongs -- in the private sector.

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