What’s wrong with school choice?

Columnist Dan Carpenter answers the question in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star: Vouchers, charter schools, parent trigger laws and the like “send a counter-educational message that one doesn’t have to work to improve a school; just go buy a new one.”

Another way to put it is this: Education isn’t a commodity. It’s not a product that you shop for and buy, after doing a little research on Consumer Reports. Education is, for students, parents and the public, a transaction: What you get out of it is related to what you put into it.

School choice means parents don’t have a real do-or-die stake in their children’s schools, or the public school systems that the schools are part of. If they don’t like the way the school is being run, if they’re unhappy with a teacher or a textbook, they can go elsewhere. The grass is greener … somewhere.

More importantly, they don’t have a stake in the schools attended by their neighbors’ children – or by the kids from across town. If everyone can opt out, if everyone is encouraged to shop around for a better deal, then no parent or citizen has to do the hard, demanding work of making sure the public schools do what’s best for all students.

Caleb Mills, regarded as the father of public education in Indiana, said as much more than 160 years ago. In one of his annual letters to the state legislature, he explained why he advocated “common schools” Continue reading

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School vouchers and the Indiana Constitution: What would the framers say?

Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution says, simply, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”

Supporters of Indiana’s school voucher program insist that doesn’t mean the state can’t fund religion. Vouchers are state funds, after all; and most of the schools getting them are religious institutions. Some law professors and school-law experts say the Indiana Supreme Court is likely to declare the voucher program acceptable.

But it seems unlikely that the men who drafted and approved Indiana’s constitution would agree. Here’s their explanation for what they were trying to do, as recorded in the journal of the 1850-51 constitutional convention:

“ … to secure the rights of conscience and prevent the imposition, on the citizen, of any tax to support any ministry Continue reading