During this election season, many of us will be voting on more than just national, state and local candidates. We will also encounter state and local ballot questions that are of great importance to our communities.
This week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer money, released a new report on private school voucher programs. The report found that as private school voucher programs continue to spread throughout the states, taxpayers are contributing more and more money each year to programs that are plagued with problems.
Back in the early 1990s when officials in the state of Wisconsin passed a voucher plan, people were assured that the idea was to help poor students trapped in underperforming public schools.
We often hear from the Religious Right and the Catholic bishops that religious freedom is under attack in the United States. Sometimes even the word “oppression” is tossed about.
Supporters of private school “choice” – by which they mean their right to choose to pass the bill for private religious education to the taxpayer – believe they are on a roll. To some extent, they’re right.
In March, Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s voucher plan doesn’t violate a provision in the Indiana Constitution that bars tax aid to religion. In the wake of that ruling, legislators promptly approved an expansion of the program.
Advocates of private school vouchers often point to Wisconsin as a model. The state has had a voucher plan since the early 1990s. At first limited to secular private schools in the city of Milwaukee, the voucher scheme was later expanded to include religious institutions.
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.
Youngsters attending the LaBrew Troopers Military University School in Milwaukee had a tough time of things.