McClaughry: The attack on tuition choice

By John McClaughry

A bill making its way through the Vermont Legislature is the latest attempt by the education establishment to limit or block parental choice in education — at a time when parents are looking for affordable alternatives to what’s being taught to their kids in public schools. It’s the public school lobby’s response to court cases that have opened the door to children to escape from unsatisfactory public schools to more satisfying independent schools, including faith-based schools.

The bill, S.219, is promoted by Senate Education Committee Chair Brian Campion (Democrat of Bennington). Campion said the bill’s main purpose was to put what he termed “guardrails” around permissible uses of public funds in religious schools. The bill limits out-of-state tuitioning only to independent schools in Vermont’s neighboring states and in Quebec. This has been a long time goal of the teachers union, which wants no public tuition money to leave the state, no matter what.

Senator Ruth Hardy, Democrat of Addison, said she could not support the bill “because it further entangles our public school financing system with private and more egregiously religious schools.” Instead, she said “We should be exploring and cementing a path for eliminating our current system of tuition.” So much for the interests of parents and students.

Make no mistake. S.219 has some useful features, but the ultimate goal of the public education lobby is to keep every education tuition dollar going to unionized public schools.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
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4 thoughts on “McClaughry: The attack on tuition choice

  1. This bill has NO redeeming features. It offends both the Federal and Vermont Constitutions, it infringes on inalienable individual rights, and it disregards precedent set forth by the SCOTUS.

    Re: “This bill proposes to: (1) ensure compliance with the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions by clarifying that a school district is authorized to pay public tuition to a qualified school or program, regardless of its religious status or affiliation, if the school or program has adequate safeguards to ensure that none of the tuition for which payment is requested has been or will be used to support religious instruction or worship or the propagation of religious views; (2) prohibit a school district from paying public tuition to a qualified school or program, regardless of religious status or affiliation, unless the school or program complies with federal and State antidiscrimination laws applicable to public schools; and (3) clarify under what circumstances a school district shall make dual enrollment available to students who attend a school with a religious mission.”

    As I’ve pointed out before, one of the first SCOTUS rulings supporting School Choice when challenged on 1st Amendment Establishment Clause jurisprudence was Zelman v Simmons-Harris, in 2001. And in that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurring opinion pointed out the following.

    First, federal, state, and local governments already provide support to religious institutions. Religious organizations already qualify for exemptions from the federal corporate income tax, the corporate income tax in many States, and property taxes in all 50 States. Clergy qualify for a federal tax break on income used for housing expenses. In addition, the Federal Government provides individuals, corporations, trusts, and estates a tax deduction for charitable contributions to qualified religious groups. And the Federal Government and certain state governments provide tax credits for educational expenses, many of which are spent on education at religious schools.

    Federal dollars also reach religiously affiliated organizations through public health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, through educational programs such as Pell Grants, the G. I. Bill of Rights, and through childcare such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.

    So… where is the complaint of compelled religious support against these programs and policies?

    Justice O’Connor goes on to say that:

    “…the goal of the Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is to determine whether, after the Cleveland voucher program was enacted, parents were free to direct state educational aid in either a nonreligious or religious direction.”

    And this is the critical point. Taxpayer funded school choice vouchers do not compel anyone to support a religion. The vouchers support freedom of choice. And the first amendment not only says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,”. It also says Congress shall make no law “… prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.

    The fact that we are endowed by our creator to make personal choices on behalf of our own children, while at the same time, taking advantage of the individual liberty and freedom we have by virtue of our U.S. and VT Constitutions, compels us only to protect and defend the individual inalienable right to make those decisions – not prohibit them.

    Just because someone pays taxes doesn’t give them the right to encroach upon the inalienable individual rights of others!

    After all, nothing in Vermont’s ‘tuitioning’ jurisprudence forces any parent to choose schools that ‘support religious instruction or worship or the propagation of religious views’. And it’s unconstitutional to restrict them from doing so if they so choose.

    I hope everyone takes the time to read Justice O’Connor’s opinion.

  2. Those “public funds” happen to be our tax dollars. with the craziness our legislature is coming up with concerning children, parents, grandparents, ect…….I want to see the $ follow the child; period. Imagine how public school system would have to change and become “competitive” which would benefit children, the state, the nation, and the world at large…….I just cant believe what is going on legislatively in this state……its criminal

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