Monday, June 13, 2005

Debate Club: School Vouchers

Legal Affairs has a weekly feature called the Debate Club which I've mentioned before. It takes two legal/scholarly/interest group folks and has them debate a topic during the week.

This week the question is school vouchers - Fifty years ago, Brown v. Board of Education promised desegregation "with all deliberate speed." But according to the U.S. Department of Education, the benefits for minority students from that landmark ruling fall short of expectations. In 2003, just over half of black and Hispanic high school students graduated compared to 72 percent of white students. One potential solution to the racial disparity is school vouchers. Advocates say vouchers increase graduation rates and empower minority students. Critics suggest that the program's results are less clear and, because vouchers are often used at parochial schools, violate the separation of church and state. Would vouchers help fulfill the promise of Brown?

The participants are Clint Bolick - President and General Counsel for the Alliance for School Choice; and Laura Underkuffler - Professor at Duke Law School.

I think this should be a good week of debate on an interesting topic...Monday was a good start.

I have always opposed school vouchers for two basic reasons:

1. By endorsing a voucher program, you are (essentially) acknowledging that your public school system is a failure and you give up all hope of restoring or healing the system itself. I cannot and do not accept that - I refuse to give up on these kids, these teachers, these parents, these neighborhoods. It may take longer, and it may be more expensive - but the (very real, very grave) problems which exist can be corrected if we choose to make the effort, bring back the hope, and do the work that must be done.

2. I have serious doubts about the fairness of these programs. How does a poor family afford to get their kids from their neighborhood out to the suburb to the fancy private school? How do minority kids fit in at schools that may have once been established specifically to avoid integration? There are a lot of intangible qustions like this that I can't get a comfort feeling around when talking about 'school choice'. How much of a choice is the suburban, uniform-wearing private school to the single mother of three who works two jobs and lives downtown and doesn't own an auto?

I think this Debate Club should provide a lot of good information to help form and inform opinions.

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