• from the DAYTON DAILY NEWS, January 12, 2006 - "Florida Court Wrong About School Vouchers"
  • from THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, January 13, 2006 - "Florida Supreme Court wrong; vouchers will help education"
  • from THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, January 14, 2006 - "Voucher Ruling is an Unreasonable Setback"

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Florida Court Wrong About School Vouchers
Florida Supreme Court wrong; vouchers will help education
Voucher Ruling is an Unreasonable Setback

January 12-14, 2006

By William L. Bainbridge

When University of Chicago Professor Milton Friedman wrote the 1955 article "The Role of Government in Education," he began what is now known as the voucher movement, and later he became better known as a recipient of the Nobel Prize for economic science.

Friedman, then leader of the Chicago School of monetary economics, advocated major reform in the organization of schooling by entitled parental choice. As a means of preserving and extending "individual freedom," he and his wife Rose D. Friedman later established a foundation to promote the concept.

The Friedmans contend government plays three major roles:
  • Legislating compulsory schooling,
  • Financing schooling.
  • Administering schools.
They argued there was some "justification for compulsory schooling and financing schooling. The actual administration of educational institutions by the government they called 'nationalization of the education industry' is much more difficult to justify on free market grounds."

They concluded that finance and administration of schools "could readily be separated. Governments could require a minimum of schooling financed by giving the parents vouchers redeemable for a given sum per child per year to be spent on purely educational services."

Denationalizing schooling would, said the Friedmans, widen the range of choice available to parents . They believe if present public expenditures were made available to parents regardless of where they send their children, a wide variety of schools would spring up to meet their demand for higher performing options.

Even though I was a young public school district superintendent in 1980, when the couple wrote the book, Free to Choose, advocating more choice in public education, their ideas made good sense to me. Why shouldn't the public schools be willing to be a part of the capital-driven economy and compete for business?

Frankly, the model they were suggesting was quite similar to a funding mechanism in American higher education where students take federal grants and loans into private colleges, as well as colleges and universities that are affiliated with religious groups.

A groundswell of opposition to the movement the Friedmans created came from educational unions and some educational management groups.

However, many thought the Friedman approach made good sense. One such Friedman supporter was Gov. Jeb Bush who made vouchers a prime feature of his administrative platform. Bush argued that the threat of losing state money to private schools would serve as a motivation for school boards to improve low-performing schools.

Recently the Florida Supreme Court struck down the Sunshine State's tuition voucher program. The judges said, by a vote of 5 to 2, that such free choice "violates the state Constitution because it diverts public money to private schools."

Although the ruling applies only to one of the three voucher programs now in existence, it could place all such programs in jeopardy. Next school year the program is to be dismantled unless legislators find a way to restore the funding. In its ruling, the court cited an article in the Florida Constitution that reads, "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."

The Opportunity Scholarships Program "violates this language," the court ruled.

The decision to stop this program for disadvantaged students is wrong. If the Friedmans' concept of three distinct governmental roles in public education is correct, then it is difficult to conclude that altering the financial model will automatically adversely affect a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.”

The ruling in essence says that while the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld voucher programs as constitutional and there is federal precedent for government funds to assist college students in religious institutions, we must stop the flow of funds to K-12 students.

Voucher opponents were jubilant about the decision, noting they had fought the law for seven years, filing a lawsuit a day after it became law.

Instead of celebrating, we need to do more to help students from low-income families secure the benefits that proponents of universal public education intended.

We must recognize and support increased efforts to help students from low-income families where most parents have little educational know-how to academically nurture their offspring.

The disadvantaged children and parents benefiting from choice in schooling were delivered yet another setback.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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