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Years ago, Florida’s Supreme Court found the State’s educational voucher program in violation of the Establishment Clause. State funds were going to parochial schools (among other organizations). Instead of recognizing their error and how much they’d spent defending the program in court, the so-called fiscal conservatives went in a different direction. 

They created a non-profit organization, where businesses could contribute funds to pay for vouchers. For every dollar a business ‘contributed,’ they owed $1 less on their taxes. In other words, $1 less went toward the State’s general fund, for public education, public safety, public works, and public health. The State was and is being short-changed in favor of a select few. 

It also meant that millions of dollars were contributed to an organization that was exempt from the Freedom of Information, Open Meetings, and Statement of Economic Interest laws that provide much needed transparency. As an aside, California’s charter schools only had to adhere to such laws like the Ralph Brown Act within the last 3 years or so.

This isn’t just a theoretical loss of funds. When there was a mass shooting at Broward County’s Douglas High School, the PA system didn’t work and it appears that the school lacked fire or electro-magnetic doors (1950’s technology). It’s challenging not to see a correlation between the diversion of revenue from the State’s general fund for vouchers and the clear lack of equipment/technology at Florida’s struggling public high schools.

Although not as severe, it’s likely that voucher programs in other states have also led to a greater gap between the ‘haves and the have nots’ in public versus private education. Although California may appear ‘exempt’ from the trials and tribulations of vouchers, my home state of Illinois has gradually implemented what I call a voucher lite program. 

For example, they relatively recently provided a tax credit of up to $400 for ‘school expenses and supplies.’ At the time, there were little to no fees for most public school students, so this disproportionately benefited families sending their kids to private schools. 

They also provide a tax credit for those who contribute to scholarship funds that are used for students attending private schools. The State doesn’t make the contributions, though loses revenue via the tax credits. Also, reduced student attendance leads to less state aid for local school districts worsening pre-existing problems.

Almost more importantly, we’ve all noticed how divisive American society has become. Can this not be partially attributed to the growth of charter and private schools along with voluntary home-schooling (i.e., not due to illness or pandemic)? 

Couldn’t it be suggested anecdotally that that as specifically white ethnic or evangelical students headed for charter or private schools in increasing numbers, the country also got more hateful, stratified, etc.? The exchange between Covington Catholic High School students and Native Americans years ago is an example of angst between some in private school and those of color or outside the Christian faith.

While those of a minority background may dabble with charter schools due to flashy marketing or a quest to do better for one’s family, it doesn’t usually last too long. Such schools don’t do well for students with challenges or who don’t speak English as their primary language. Those who remain in such schools tend to be homogenous. Hence, they aren’t used to being disagreed with on public policy, faith, and other matters of import. 

They may not be used to being in the same room or part of town with ‘others,’ either. Further, it would almost appear that for some proponents of vouchers and, to a lesser extent, charter schools, a return to Plessy is desired. Inherently separate and unequal environments for the ’pure’ (think America First) folks and ‘those people.’ And now we have a more violent nation. Though, more of that violence is partially based on background.

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Reducing funds for private school vouchers is a fiscally responsible effort. When a State has a deficit, its important to ensure revenue is spent in a manner that benefits all residents. Even when a state has a surplus like California, achieving value for the vast majority of State residents continues to be important.

Especially in the current environment, it may be important to look at exactly how education occurs. We can say ‘no more’ to charter schools in store fronts and private schools in buildings that are woefully out of compliance with current City/County and State building code. We can say, we need to take a look at colleges where professors are encouraged to boast what church they’re a member of and what ministries they’re pursuing on the school’s website. 

This can be seen as having a unique impact on the academic and social environment of an institution that probably receives federal funds. While this may appear unfair, imagine the professor who attended evangelical Christian private schools from k-12, then attended Oral Roberts or Liberty. Unless that was a stellar student, I don’t see where a diversity of thought or perspective (experience) would’ve come into play.

It’s my understanding that at least a handful of California colleges are similar to the above-mentioned East Coast schools in this regard. Let’s not forget that the college Nixon attended took a broad interest in student life and activities back then, as did a few in Illinois. This isn’t to belittle such Schools overall. Though given the dynamics of campuses for Jews, Asians, LGBTQ+ and people of color, I have trouble seeing where an apparent preference for certain tenets or perspectives can make that collegiate environment more inviting or safer

Especially with limited numbers of police officers appearing to refuse to protect Hispanic and Jewish students in Texas and Florida, we must look into who is educating our students and what we can expect in the way of outcomes. Are more officers going to such schools? Does the increased presence of such schools make previously unacceptable attitudes appear to be ok? Or, is this mostly the outcome of the prior Administration’s apparent popularity?

I attended Evanston Township High School (ETHS); a Title I school. It is no coincidence that there was an ETHS for Obama club or organization, where I don’t think there was a similar club for his opponent(s). It is also no surprise that many of us pursued public service, non-profit careers and social advocacy. The imperfections of America weren’t just news at 5:30pm; they were situations we or our classmates were contending with all day, everyday. 

It is much harder to say ‘not my problem’ when this is partially your environment. Clearly, I didn’t have the same experiences as classmates who became pregnant earlier than most, who were of color, etc. Yet, I was not in an environment that suggested I was superior to the people who did have those experiences.

This is another example of how life in California is better than elsewhere. At the moment:

  • Vouchers for private schools aren’t competing with the need to adequately fund public schools
  • There is a steady, reasonable concern to ensure Charter schools don’t have the complete free reign they once did
  • Ethnic studies will be taught in every school in the State

These are things that progressives can be proud of. Not to mention how, until recently, there have been limits on car insurance premium increases and rent increases. I’m not aware of folks who would take issue with either component of Progressivism.