I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him. The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with a voucher for another public or private school. The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only. Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.
But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform". Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality". But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality. The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools. The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school. Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia). By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it. From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.
So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else. As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming. This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality. While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out". However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:
At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way. Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution. Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history. Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education. Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics. Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.
I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country. Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.
So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice. I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all. I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice. Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that. Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that. Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...