Sunday, May 6, 2012

Indiana Vouchers and Special Interest Groups

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HARBESON: A special interest in school funding

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — As I read about the Indiana State Teacher’s Association’s continued attempts to invalidate Indiana’s new voucher law, using funding of religion as a primary argument, I began to wonder if they feel kind of strange watching it play out in the courts. Do they notice the irony of relying on people who don fancy robes and claim the authority to interpret vague verses in documents written before any of us were born?

I doubt it. I don’t believe ISTA is really that upset over the religious aspect in the first place. The religious argument just provides a convenient means to try and get what they want, which is to avoid competition and keep the government money earmarked for educational purposes to themselves.

As a matter of fact, I’m sure that any ISTA supporter who has taken some time to think about it must secretly be at least a bit thankful that most of the private schools who accept vouchers in Indiana are run by religious institutions. After all, the religious objection helps to avoid using other arguments that can’t as easily mask their concern about losing their monopoly over the money.

If the voucher-accepting schools were overwhelmingly secular, then it would be much harder for ISTA, an organization that supposedly supports education, to object to a government program that increases educational options to meet a variety of individual needs.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure the motives of the voucher defenders are so great either. This group certainly includes people who are also happy to have various verses within the government bible we call the Constitution interpreted in their favor so they can get control of the funds.

One of the main points the voucher proponents use to defend against the religious funding argument is that vouchers are not given directly to private schools. They are given to individuals so it’s the family, not the government, who may make the choice to give the funds to a religious institution.

In other words, when the parent plays middle-man, the money is somehow cleansed of its true source. It is no longer considered money that has been coerced from those who may not wish to fund religious institutions. I’m not sure exactly how this cleansing process takes place — but I’ve never understood money laundering either.

Voucher proponents love to push the idea that it’s all based on private, individual choices and parents are supposedly granted complete independence in how they use the vouchers. There’s one problem though — parents are limited to options that have been specifically government-approved. This is not an independent choice.

Of course true independence can only happen when parents are spending their own money or funds voluntarily given to them by another individual/organization that places no strings on how the funds are spent. That’s what granting independent choice means — no strings.

Vouchers do not and cannot operate like that.

If we step back and look at the voucher controversy from a big-picture perspective, we can easily see that this battle is no different than any other government battle. There are two sides supporting various special interest groups who want control of government money.

ISTA works for teachers who benefit from government-run schools. Voucher proponents work for people who benefit from voucher-accepting businesses. Neither side seems concerned about the coercion of the individual at large who is forced to fund any of these government-approved educational options.

Both sides apparently accept that it’s valid and moral to coerce individuals to pay for the education of other people’s children and unfortunately, as long as no one works to end government involvement in education, this is what we get — special interest groups fighting over who gets access and control of the funds.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is part of a special interest group that is especially interested in getting rid of special interest groups.

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