In what will be remembered as a major blow against public education, the U.S. Supreme Court voted Thursday that giving money to children to attend religious, and therefore private schools, does not violate the Constitution. This decision could breathe life back into the struggling Florida school voucher program, which gives state money for students to go to private school, and has the potential to redefine public education in America.
Federal aid to private schools hurts all parties involved: teachers, parents and students. Public schools have fought for years to maintain state standards and give educational opportunities to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status. For federal aid to be granted to any private school not only belittles the public school system, but it also undermines the education children receive from public schools.
Public schools are always looking for more funding to increase programs, staffing and extracurricular activities. With extra funding, it might be possible for public schools to offer more of the programs that make private schools so alluring. Also while public schools are most directly threatened by voucher programs, many private schools do not welcome the idea of admitting inner-city children, especially if it will hurt their financial donations.
Florida, the first state to enact a voucher program in 1999, could serve to benefit the most from this new ruling. The program was begun to raise education standards and reduce class sizes. In actuality the program is a form of discrimination that hurts both public and private schools and does not offer the options it is meant to. According to USA Today, in the first year of voucher programs, 93 percent of private and parochial schools refused vouchers. Couple this fact with high admissions standards at private schools, and many students who may be given the federal aid to attend such schools simply can’t get in.
Vouchers may have seemed like a good idea on paper. However, in practice what schools need is support, both financial and moral, that will help to give children the best education we can afford, not buy.