Shekels And Shackles: What The Government Funds It Also Regulates

Of course acceptance of tax aid is going to result in regulation of private schools. That has been the trend in every voucher plan operating in the country.

As a kid I attended a private religious school for eight years. In the seventh grade, a new student joined our class.

Molly was – how shall I say this? – a "problem child." She smoked cigarettes, frequently cut class, cussed like a longshoreman and ran with a rough crowd. Our school was known for its strict discipline (not to mention intimidating nuns), and Molly's parents hoped it would provide the structure she needed.

It didn't work out that way.

After just a few months, Molly was gone. Even the nuns couldn't handle her. She was sent back to public school.

So much for school "choice."

I thought of this incident after reading about a new report out of North Carolina. The voucher crowd is putting on a big push for private/religious school aid there, and as part of that, the John Locke Foundation surveyed private school officials.

The organization found that private schools are eager for tax aid. Eighty-six percent said they would support a voucher program. But at the same time, the private school community was clear there are some things it doesn't want: government oversight, regulation or accountability. Seventy percent said they would not accept vouchers if that meant more state control over their institutions.

In other words, North Carolina private school officials will be all too happy to take your money. Just don't expect to have any say in how it is spent.

What planet are these people living on?

Of course acceptance of tax aid is going to result in regulation of private schools. That has been the trend in every voucher plan operating in the country.

Most regulation will come from legislatures, but I would not overlook the role of the courts. The school I attended received no tax support, but what if it had? If Molly's parents had had a voucher in their hands, is it likely they would have simply accepted her expulsion? My guess is they would have gone to court.

Voucher plans usually contain regulation from day one. Ohio's voucher program prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of religion in admissions. In Wisconsin, laws require voucher schools to allow publicly funded students to opt out of the religious aspects of the curriculum. In Washington, D.C., site of the nation's only federally funded vouchers program, schools are required to give first priority to students deemed educationally disadvantaged. Schools had to agree to submit to studies to determine the plan's effectiveness.

As voucher programs age, the trend is toward more regulation. A raft of new regulations is being considered in Wisconsin, home of the nation's oldest voucher plan. Under legislation currently being   considered, voucher schools would be required to offer standardized testing, hire only teachers who hold at least a bachelor's degree and guarantee minimum yearly hours of instruction.

One lawmaker proposed that voucher schools with significant Hispanic populations be required to offer bilingual instruction. That measure failed, but the legislator says he plans to reintroduce it.

In Wisconsin, the debate is way beyond whether to regulate the religious and other private schools that receive vouchers. The debate is now over what types of regulations to impose.

Just to be clear, Americans United believes religious institutions should pay their own way. We oppose vouchers. No one should be taxed to pay for another's religion. The people sitting in the pews should pay for all of a church's projects, including its schools.

But in those cases where public aid is extended to religious education, regulations are appropriate and necessary. In fact, they need to be more far reaching. It's absurd to think that in Milwaukee, which has had a voucher plan since 1990, the legislature is just now getting around to making sure that teachers in voucher schools have the proper educational backgrounds.

The private school officials in North Carolina who are so eager to get government aid might want to consider this reality. If they believe they are going to get a windfall of public funds with no strings attached, they expect what never has and never will be.