The Third Way

letter-447577_1280

There are three distinct ways to look at school vouchers.

One is to regard them as a bogeyman threatening to destroy the American public educational system and undermine the sublime values that system instills in its students. Call that the “teachers unions” approach.

The second is to regard them as a lifeline for poor parents, a means of allowing those without means to provide their children a chance to escape failing public schools.

That was President Bush’s approach in his final State of the Union address, wherein he lauded the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program Congress approved at the beginning of 2004. That enactment permitted more than 2600 of the poorest children in Washington, previously enrolled in the District’s poorly performing public schools, to transfer to nonpublic schools, including religious ones, of their parents’ choice. The President went on to propose a “Pell Grants for Kids” initiative, intended to help children “trapped in failing public schools” attend private and religious schools, presumably along the lines of the D.C. program.

But the reference to Pell Grants – which provide need-based grants to low-income students for postsecondary education – was somewhat puzzling. Because the Pell Grant model applied to younger students would be a reflection of the third way of approaching school vouchers.

That would be to regard them as something more than a “next stop” after a child has been sentenced to wasted years – or worse – in a failing school. To regard them, instead, as the empowerment of a fundamental parental right: the right to educate one’s children as one wishes them to be educated.

Pell Grants are not just for students in failing public colleges, but for all students whose families could not otherwise afford to continue their educations. The theory is straightforward: Wealthy students have access to quality higher education, poorer ones do not. Let government do what it can to level the playing field, allowing more young people who otherwise would end up in menial jobs (or worse) become accountants, scientists, doctors, lawyers or teachers themselves – and taxpayers.

The logic of allowing for more educational choice is even more compelling when it comes to the early years of educational careers, when children’s minds and morals are molded by their school experiences. Even a plan like the D.C. initiative can only be accessed by parents after their child has languished in a failing school. And when that child has been released from his or her internment, perhaps even scarred by the experience, any siblings will have to do their own time before they, too, can qualify for a better educational environment.

And is there any reason why parents – all parents – should not have the final say in where their children are educated? We readily recognize that parents in a pluralistic society like ours have a right to raise their children as they see fit, within the bounds of law, instilling in them the values they hold dear. In Judaism – and surely other belief systems and philosophies – that is not only a right but a deep responsibility. Choosing the right school for a child should be seen as an essential expression of that right and responsibility.

Education, after all, is much more than the transfer of information, much more, even, than training minds to think. It is the imparting of attitudes, ideals and values as well, particularly today, when so often both parents (when there even are two) are working (sometimes at multiple jobs), and when children (even when they are at home) are regularly left to their own devices (and those of the virtual child-molester we call television). It would be folly to deny that schools help shape a child’s development. Should parents not have the final say about which ones nurture their young?

Public school advocates – including those who enjoy the option of being able to afford private schools for their own children even while opposing governmental policies that would extend that option to those less financially fortunate – say no. But they are responding from fear. Unfounded fear, to boot. The public school system qua system will only benefit from true school choice. Were all American parents able to send their children to the schools of their choice, some individual public schools might indeed wither away from lack of interest. But that’s just the fate of any inferior product in the face of competition. Choices, though, are always a boon to quality, and to the consumer. Public schools that do the job they are supposed to do will surely continue to thrive.

The constitutionality of vouchers once made for interesting legal debate, but the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the concept of providing parents educational vouchers with which to guide their children’s education does not violate the Constitution. So school choice is both logical and legal.

And compelling. There is straightforward justice in empowering parents to choose how their children are educated, to exercise what is perhaps, the most important civil right of all.

© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. The above essay appeared, with a different title, on February 4, 2008 in The New York Sun.]

You may also like...

39 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    This recent article points to problems with the voucher strategy to insure the proper schooling for Americans. Its publication is a possible indicator that the time for the voucher strategy has passed.

    http://city-journal.org/2008/18_1_instructional_reform.html

  2. YM says:

    Steve B, I think what Saul Stern actually concluded in his study is that competion from the voucher program has not led to improvement in the public schools in Milwaukee. Here is the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/13/nyregion/13facebook.html?scp=1&sq=school+vouchers&st=nyt
    Here is the pertinent quote: “Milwaukee’s public schools still suffer from low achievement and miserable graduation rates, with test scores flattening in recent years,” Mr. Stern wrote. “Violence and disorder throughout the system are as serious as ever. Most voucher students are still benefiting, true; but no ‘Milwaukee Miracle,’ no transformation of the public schools, has taken place.”

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, one of the main advocates of vouchers, Saul Stern, has concluded that vouchers have not raised the quality of education in Milwaukee.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    In the US with the separation of church and state the funding of religious schools must be done entirely with private money. It could be possible, perhaps requiring appropriate legislation, to restructure religious schools so that there could be a recognized “secular” segment which would teach the secular subjects under state scrutiny to make sure that the quality met the same standards demanded of any other school, public or private. The school would also have a religious division whose curriculum would be totally voluntary and controlled by the school and the parents. There would have to be some minimal control to make sure that the school was not advocating violent overthrow of the government in favor or an Islamic republic, or whatever. The pro-rated amount of the tuition going for the common secular part of the curriculum plus the amount of the upkeep of the building covering those hours of study would be covered by the vouchers, the rest not. That would still not satisfy everybody, nor would all the constitutional questions be solved. The secular studies teachers’ salaries would be paid, but not the religious studies teachers. The parents would benefit to some degree, but life would be far from a picnic, especially considering the size of our families. Would the secular taxpayer want to subsidize, even in part, the OJ or devout Catholic or Muslim family with 6 or 8 or 10 kids when they have two? I have also taken note of all the issues concerning state oversight in curriculum. There are problems, but the Volozhin model is not totally appropriate. Czarist Russia was actively engaged in a program of undermining Judaism. They had the cantonist military program and the university quota system, both specifically aimed against Jews. Today’s rabbis, roshei yeshiva and chassidische rebbeim who refer to the US as medina shel chesed should be able to see this distinction.

  5. Jacob Haller says:

    airmontp wrote

    “The Islamists have already set up parallel societies in Britian, France, Canada ect. Do you want that to take place in the US?

    While limiting funding to public education is a disadvantage to us, since we wish to preserve our unique heritage through private schooling, public eduaction tends to assimilate immigrant groups and is the best way to maintain a healthy, friendly and stable national culture”

    You’ve likely heard about the “cultural magnet” schools in NYC where taxpayer funds are bankrolling public schools to teach the “culture” and “language” of the old country and now Arabic has joined this prestigious club.

    Anyone who objects to this is of course reflexively tar and feathered as a “racist” so the ideal of public education assimilating the masses is now Old School.

    Whatever problems potentially exist with vouchers, the reality of these tax-payer funded cultural schools and now public financing of the “parallel” societies has undoubtedly caused many former fence-sitters to take stock of the new reality brewing and demand their “slice of the pie”; in this case via vouchers.

    Rhetorically speaking “If the _______ get the public $, why not us?”

    Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I wholeheartedly support the voucher issue due to many other possible problems but I am questioning your line of reasoning considering the new realities vis a vis public education, culture/religion-based mini-societies, and naturalization.

  6. Seth Gordon says:

    (Disclaimer of interest: I have a three-year-old in a public preschool, which has been good about providing reasonable accommodation for kashrut and Jewish holidays, and a five-year-old in a Jewish day school.)

    While I would certainly appreciate aid from the government that would reduce the burden of my tuition, I agree with the critiques that other people have posted.

    I would add: in a voucher-supported system, what happens to children with disabilities? In a public-school system, the cost of providing “a free, appropriate and public education in the least restrictive environment” can be spread out across a large student population. For example, some school districts in the Boston area collaborate on sending deaf and hard-of-hearing students to one particular high school–which is not a school exclusively for deaf children, but one that has staff and special accommodations that those students need in order to manage in school with their hearing classmates.

    I don’t see how similar arrangements could be managed in a voucher system. Is every school going to be on the hook to accommodate every child? Will the taxpayers be on the hook to pay for accommodations in every school with a disabled child, even if there’s a lot of duplication of effort? Will parents of disabled children just have to put up with the philosophy of whatever school is willing to take the kids?

    More generally–if a school accepts vouchers and is so popular that it is oversubscribed (my son’s school literally had twice as many applications as spaces for his kindergarten), how much discretion should the school be allowed to have regarding who it accepts?

  7. Avigdor says:

    Three quick comments about vouchers in general and how the (unsuccessful) California voucher initiatives handed some problems.

    1. Regulations. Both California initiatives had supermajority requirements for additional regulations. They also provided a pretty solid mechanism for a court challenge. The initiatives explicitly stated that one purpose was to allow private and parochial schools to operate as freely as possible and placed the burden on the government to show that any additional regulations were necessary to achieve certain educational goals. This would be a pretty difficult burden for the government to meet.

    2. Funding. The California initiatives set the voucher amount at less than the average cost of public schools. So, for example, with Prop 174 in 1993, the average cost of public schools was (then) $5,200 per student, and the voucher was half this, or $2,600 per student. Thus, when a student leaves the public schools, the student takes all of the cost associated with that student, but only 50% of the funding. (To see this, imagine that every child except 1 left the public school system. 50% of the total education budget would go to vouchers, and the other 50% would remain to educate the last remaining student.)

    There are some very complex funding issues regarding marginal and fixed costs, off-budget items (like the public school properties themselves), and growing and shrinking enrollments. But the bottom line was that every student who switched from public school to private school generated savings for the public school system. However, the existing stock of private school students would have to be funded, and that was a net cost.

    3. Scholarships in private schools (see comment 32). This gets quite complex, but it all this depends on the market power of the school and the elasticity of demand for particular schools. To use the numerical example above, suppose the tuition at a particular school is $8,000 with most students getting some sort of scholarship. Now suppose there is a $2000 voucher.

    At one extreme, the school could simply raise everyone’s tuition $2000. The school would get $2,000 x the number of students in extra funds, and it would presumably use that for some educational purpose — pay the teachers or administrators more, provide better educational services, etc. The parents would have the same amount of money, but the people associated with the school would be better off: students would get a more expensive education, teachers would be better paid, etc.

    At the other extreme, the school could leave everyone’s tuition the same and allow the parents to pocket the extra $2000. The parents would be financially better off, but the education system would be the same.

    Most likely, the school will take some middle course. It will raise tuitions by less than the full amount of the vouchers. And it might use the extra money for higher scholarships. How much it raises tuition depends on some complicated things involving the schools cost curves and the parents’ elasticity of demand. But most likely, the schools will steer some sort of intermediate course.

  8. greenBubble says:

    From a parent’s perspective, i don’t think vouchers are going to save them any money. (The following is an example, and i make no claim that these numbers have anything to do with reality.)
    Let’s say a school has a standard tuition of $8000, with most parents getting a $4000 scholarship, and some parents paying $2-3000. (The only ones who pay the $8k are the truly well-to-do and those who won’t show their tax returns to ANYBODY.)
    Now let’s introduce $2000 vouchers. Dollars to doughnuts, those scholarships are going to dry up (Why do you need a scholarship — you have vouchers) and the average parent will still pay $3500. It may be good for the school, and ultimately enhance the quality of the education (and the ability of the teachers to pay their own tuitions) but it won’t seriously lower the parents’ tuition .

  9. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    “I spent a Shabat with the Belz Chasidic community in Montreal a year and a half ago. The Quebec government does have a lot of standards, including a lot of instruction in French and a pretty strong secular curriculum. Nobody there seemed to complain.”

    Did you visit the yeshiva and girls’ school to see to what extent they were actually complying with the regulations? To what extent did they fulfill the standards?

  10. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    “I see the state governments applying far more stringent standards than Quebec, and enforcing them more stringently.”

    I spent a Shabat with the Belz Chasidic community in Montreal a year and a half ago. The Quebec government does have a lot of standards, including a lot of instruction in French and a pretty strong secular curriculum. Nobody there seemed to complain.

    “You can’t have it both ways- either you keep public schools secular and allow religious children the option of attending a school that fits their religious needs, or you must accept and allow religious children in the public schools to practice as they wish so long as they don’t coerce others.”

    Even the ACLU would agree that individual students should have complete freedom to practice their religion in public schools — and a generation ago there were a lot of frum kids in public schools, brownbagging their kosher food.

    “California has had two voucher ballot initiatives on the ballot (Prop 174 in 1993, and Prop 38 in 2000). I was a public speaker for both campaigns and participated in about 60 public debates total.”

    IIRC, every voucher referendum in the US has failed at the polls, some pretty badly.

    “additional competition from private schools will force public schools to reform”

    I don’t think there is any real empirical evidence for this. Have public schools really improved in the few communities in the US that have tried vouchers? Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine have had extensive voucher programs for small town rural high schools as long as anyone can remember but has it resulted in better public schools in those states?

    “If voters in general still object to vouchers, even for bad reasons, we need to rethink our strategy. If voters in general really do support vouchers but have had no impact on their elected officials, we also need to rethink our strategy. Restating our brilliant arguments will do nothing in itself.”

    Said better than I could say it.

    “why do you expect this to be funded by the federal government rather than the same property taxes that fund schools today?”

    (1) About 3/4 of states explicitly prohibit state or local funds going to any religious school. (2) Have you not heard about the property tax revolts in most of the US? I personally know families paying over two thousand dollars per month in property taxes in the New York suburbs! Supporting a tax increase is a sure way for any politician to end his/her political career (unless his name is Mike Bloomberg, but New York City property taxes are actually rather low by US standards).

  11. tzippi says:

    Re comment 23: “I thought most Orthodox families were strapped for cash because of the high costs of tuition.”

    Those who are strapped (largely, but not necessarily primarily) because of the high costs of tuition (you see, there’s also the high cost of living, even for those living modestly) are strapped. Those who are not strapped, are not strapped and can afford the luxuries mentioned. And may also be those helping the strapped in the form of tuition subsidies, local tzedakas and free loans, etc.

    As many families are not paying full tuition, the schools aren’t exactly flush and can’t pay the teachers the salaries most so richly deserve. Not exactly the greatest incentive for a young person deciding on a career.

  12. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    “Why are you afraid of the day that happens?”

    Because it will be accompanied by arrests, criminal charges, social welfare agencies taking children from parents, and a host of other evils that will amount to a tremendous chilul HaShem.

    “Do you think it’s legitimate to deny children the secular education they are likely to need to be able to support their families when they grow up?”

    No, but there are those who do. And vouchers will hasten the day that the government will be fighting those who do, and I don’t look forward to that fight.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by Moshe P. Mann — February 17, 2008 @ 2:51 am:

    Moshe,

    Part of your comment, “increasing taxes of hardworking American families is itself an abrogation of the freedom to spend our own money”, can be taken as an attack on the idea of taxation. Do you object to all taxation, of any type for any purpose, or only some? After all, you would have the use of all your money if the government didn’t take its cut. If you don’t object to all taxes, which forms and uses of taxation do you approve of and why?

    If you approve of any taxation to support public schools, do you also accept the legality of that portion of it that goes toward indoctrination in beliefs you don’t personally hold? Or do you hold that public schools have the right to use tax money for such indoctrination but private schools do not?

  14. Moshe P. Mann says:

    Ori – your analogy is quite fallacious. Public schools are just that – schools for the public, where ANYONE (at least with a bare minimum of mentschlichkeit) can join and EVERYONE (at least ideally) can benefit by having children from low income families become productive members of society instead of becoming criminals. It is not unlike other taxes, used to pave roads, maintain a police force, etc.

    Private schools, otoh, is a service which caters to INDIVIDUAL families with a very specific ideological agenda. Funding them would be completely counterproductive, since the kids who would benefit the most from a subsidized education, namely, from very low income families living in the projects, would have to compete with middle class Orthodox Jewish families who are for the most part financially secure. A laughably ridiculous scenario indeed!

  15. LazerA says:

    The dangers of allowing our religious schools to become excessively dependent on government money are very real. Initially, it would probably be wonderful. Virtually every yeshiva oriented school would join the badwagon to accept these voucher funds.

    But we do not live in a static environment and the natural tendency of all government programs is to increase regulation. What happens in ten years, when the government begins to make its support conditional on factors that do seriously affect the ability for yeshivos to function?

    There are many possible such regulations, e.g. requiring ALL teachers (including rebbeim) to be college certified, various anti-discrimination regulations, regulating the proportion of time that may be devoted to religious instruction, regulating vacation and dismissal times, etc. Who can predict what educational fads might be legally imposed upon religious schools through the threat of disqualification from receiving voucher funds?

    Given this risk, can we afford to accept such funds even initally? Once the yeshivos get accustomed to this new source of funding, what requirement will be the critical threshold for the yeshivos to stop? If the changes and regulations are imposed gradually, will the yeshivos EVER say, “No more!” and stop accepting voucher funds? Or will we see a slow evolution of our yeshiva system into a watered-down day school system?

    Some might see that latter scenario as a good thing, but I doubt that opinion would be shared by the yeshiva world.

  16. JoeCool says:

    To Joel Rich: If you truly believe in TuM and the benefit of robust financial oversight, you should welcome additional government funding that comes with strings that move jewish schools in that direction.

    To Lawrence M. Reisman: I don’t have your dilemma. I want the government funding and would welcome the added regulations. Those institutions that fear the “light of day” should be free to limp along as they do today, but I think that most will adapt and ultimately improve.

  17. Ori says:

    Charles B. Hall, I’m pretty sure that the school vouchers will only be worth the amount that the taxpayer currently spends on educating children, meaning that they would be a tuition discount, rather than cover completely whatever tuition the school charges. Otherwise, I’d enroll students in Ovesoba (Ori’s very expensive school of benefit abuse) and then use half the tuition to hire their parents for nonsense tasks.

    BTW, why do you expect this to be funded by the federal government rather than the same property taxes that fund schools today?

    Moshe P. Mann: It is outright disingenuous, not to mention laughably ridiculous, to suggest that it is somehow an American value of freedom to force taxpayers’ funding private schools, many of which cater to the most fringe elements of society.

    Ori: Is it any more ridiculous than mainstream parents, like me, having everybody pay property taxes to support the public schools that our children attend?

    Lawrence M. Reisman: There are yeshivas in the US that provide no secular education, either past 6th grade or not at all. There are other yeshivas which wink on boys skipping secular studies. I’m thinking of Rabbi ___’s mishnayos groups, where boys skip secular studies to study mishna. So far, the government has not intruded into the operation of these schools. I’m afraid of the day that happens, which is why I’m not naming names.

    Ori: Why are you afraid of the day that happens? Do you think it’s legitimate to deny children the secular education they are likely to need to be able to support their families when they grow up?

    Steve Brizel: Would the presence of vouchers alleviate the other problems within our educational system-such as underpaid mchanchim and a community that all but discourages its best and brightest from choosing chinuch as a desired profession as opposed to a fallback for a couple who have to leave the kollel and one where more is spent on Pesach vacations than on Jewish education?

    Ori: I thought most Orthodox families were strapped for cash because of the high costs of tuition. Can you elaborate?

  18. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    JoeCool asks two questions:

    (1) Do you think that yeshivos would suffer irreparable harm from a more robust secular studies program?

    (2)Do you believe that most yeshivos are so well managed that they could not benefit from a little more financial oversight?

    I would answer no in both cases. However, I doubt the anhaloh of any yeshiva would agree. And here is our problem: We want the government’s money, but we don’t want to follow any requirements the government would impose for taking our money. We all know of abuses with government programs; vouchers would multiply the number manyfold.

  19. joel rich says:

    It is always a bit amusing when otherwise liberal jews bring up the specter of Volozhin and assert the danger of government intrusion into management of jewish schools. Putting aside the not too minor a fact that none of us live in 19th Century Russia, I have two questions for Mr. Rich. (1) Do you think that yeshivos would suffer irreparable harm from a more robust secular studies program? (2)Do you believe that most yeshivos are so well managed that they could not benefit from a little more financial oversight?

    Comment by JoeCool
    ==================================================

    Joe,
    I was arguing lshitatam of the charedi world. Personally I strongly believe and try to live TUM to the best of my somewhat limited ability. Similarly with the financial oversight question – tocho kboro should prevail (live like you are a glass house).

    KT

  20. airmontp says:

    Have you ever considered the possibility that the availability of public funds for private elementary education will encourage a system of Religious Islamic schools, similar to ours, that will encourage adherence to Sharia law and fundamentalist doctrines. What a DANGER!!!

    The Islamists have already set up parallel societies in Britian, France, Canada ect. Do you want that to take place in the US?

    While limiting funding to public education is a disadvantage to us, since we wish to preserve our unique heritage through private schooling, public eduaction tends to assimilate immigrant groups and is the best way to maintain a healthy, friendly and stable national culture.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Since all the strong arguments for vouchers have been circulating for years, we have to ask why anything is going to turn out differently this time. If voters in general still object to vouchers, even for bad reasons, we need to rethink our strategy. If voters in general really do support vouchers but have had no impact on their elected officials, we also need to rethink our strategy. Restating our brilliant arguments will do nothing in itself.

  22. Steve Brizel says:

    Let’s assume that vouchers were viewed as constitutional. Would the presence of vouchers alleviate the other problems within our educational system-such as underpaid mchanchim and a community that all but discourages its best and brightest from choosing chinuch as a desired profession as opposed to a fallback for a couple who have to leave the kollel and one where more is spent on Pesach vacations than on Jewish education?

  23. Avigdor says:

    California has had two voucher ballot initiatives on the ballot (Prop 174 in 1993, and Prop 38 in 2000). I was a public speaker for both campaigns and participated in about 60 public debates total. R. Shafran is correct about the three ways to think about vouchers, but there is a actually a fourth way to look at vouchers that I think is much more helpful: additional competition from private schools will force public schools to reform.

    The central problem with public education today is not doctrinal. It is structural. Within the public school system, there is no incentive for programs and ideas that work to be funded more, to grow, and to be copied, and for the people who accomplished good results to be rewarded. And there is no incentive for programs that fail to lose funding, to be stopped, and for the people in charge to be held accountable. In fact, the incentives are often the opposite. As a result, mistakes become institutionalized, and even modest corrections become difficult to make. The structural power resides in resident bureaucrats, in politicians, and in labor unions.

    People often complain about this and say we need to change the bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy is not something that can simply be legislative away. It is a consequence of the current politicized, top-down, regulation-heavy school system we have implemented.

    Vouchers would change that. Funding — and thus power — would be transferred from bureaucrats and politicians and unions to parents. A parent would have a much greater ability to simply say, “This is not working. I am leaving and taking my money with me.” As parents and students and funding leave, it will precipitate a wonderful crisis in the public school system. The system will no longer simply be balancing the needs and desires of bureaucrats, politicians, and unions, but will now have to ask, “How do we make parents happy so that we can keep them and their funding in our school?” And the answer is simple: provide a quality education.

    FWIW, I have one child in public school (and another in religious pre-school). So far, the quality of his public school education has been good, mainly because of excellent teachers who do a great job despite the obstacles the public school system imposes. And from what I understand, that is typical of good public schools. By and large, the teachers are not the problem; the system itself is.

    This system will in fact be a threat to the public schools, as advocates of the first approach contend. The public schools will have to reform or lose students. And that “gale of creative destruction” is a very good thing. When the dust settles, there will be many fewer bad public schools, and many more students getting a better education, either in better public schools or in private or parochial schools.

    Avigdor

  24. JoeCool says:

    It is always a bit amusing when otherwise liberal jews bring up the specter of Volozhin and assert the danger of government intrusion into management of jewish schools. Putting aside the not too minor a fact that none of us live in 19th Century Russia, I have two questions for Mr. Rich. (1) Do you think that yeshivos would suffer irreparable harm from a more robust secular studies program? (2)Do you believe that most yeshivos are so well managed that they could not benefit from a little more financial oversight?

  25. Anonymous says:

    For those who are upset by the issue of vouchers, consider this: public schools have become bastions of secularism intent on forcing their beliefs on all children in attendance, not much different from those “scary” yeshivos that “get away” with providing a minimal secular curriculum. A case in point, a few years ago, a friend of mine in the public school system had gotten involved with NCSY and became frum while still in high school. Switching to a private school was not an option (her parents flatly refused). She came to school in long skirts and long sleeves and got in trouble when she refused to wear shorts for gym. The incident that really takes the cake though, is when she got suspended for making a bracha, and then subsequently bentching on her lunch, even though she was not “promoting” such activities in any way, and only doing it as her own personal obligation. You can’t have it both ways- either you keep public schools secular and allow religious children the option of attending a school that fits their religious needs, or you must accept and allow religious children in the public schools to practice as they wish so long as they don’t coerce others. Vouchers are probably the more viable option. And no one is saying that the money in these vouchers should pay for good Rabbeim. They should be used to bolster the quality of the secular studies departments of the schools.

  26. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    With regard to vouchers, I agree with Joel Rich that “funding is likely not to come without a more intrusive assertion of the public’s right to monitor those organizations receiving subsidies.” And Yaakov Menken’s comparison to Quebec, where “Canadian parents choose the school, which receives a per-student payment for providing an education that meets standards set by the Quebec government.” may not apply in the US. For one thing, I see the state governments applying far more stringent standards than Quebec, and enforcing them more stringently. We are all aware of yeshivas and girls’ schools that provide an seculary education of far less quality than any public school. I am afraid that these schools will seek public subsidies and try to get around the minimum educational requirements that come with them.
    The result will be criminal charges and a chillul HaShem that we don’t need.

    With regard to Ori’s two questions:

    “1. Can parents decide they don’t want their children educated? For example, can Joseph the Radical Amish say that basic literacy is enough and his ten years old daughter should now spend her days helping her mother raise the younger children?” The Amish have their own private schools for children through age 14 or so. After that, they leave school to work at home. In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court, by an 8-1/2 to 1/2 vote, ruled that the state could not force the Amish children into public high schools. (Say a one-half vote because William O. Douglas dissented in part. In one of the cases, the child in question testified he did not want to go to school. On that case, Douglas voted with the majority. In the other two cases before the court, there was no evidence that the children did not want to go to public school, and Douglas would have remanded those cases to determine what the children wanted.)

    “2. Can parents decide what curriculum to use with school vouchers? Yusuf the Muslim believes that the answers to all of the world’s questions are in the Koran. He wants his son to attend a Madrassa who curriculum is 5% Arabic and 95% memorizing the Koran in Arabic. When his son graduates, he’ll be less employable than if he had spent no time at school.” I would expect that this case would go against the parent, and this brings up a troubling point. There are yeshivas in the US that provide no secular education, either past 6th grade or not at all. There are other yeshivas which wink on boys skipping secular studies. I’m thinking of Rabbi ___’s mishnayos groups, where boys skip secular studies to study mishna. So far, the government has not intruded into the operation of these schools. I’m afraid of the day that happens, which is why I’m not naming names.

  27. Moshe P. Mann says:

    I believe that Rabbi Shafran is once again confusing (perhaps deliberately) the individuals freedom of choice with my own obligation to support it. A Muslim student is free to study the Koran the entire school day, just as a Lubavitch student is free to study Likutei Sichos or a Holocaust denier is free to produce Holocaust denial literature. But only a quasi-communist would insist on funding it through tapayers dollars. It is outright disingenuous, not to mention laughably ridiculous, to suggest that it is somehow an American value of freedom to force taxpayers’ funding private schools, many of which cater to the most fringe elements of society.

    Any rational person would notice the tremendous fallacy in Rabbi Shafran’s argument, because increasing taxes of hardworking American families is itself an abrogation of the freedom to spend our own money.

  28. mycroft says:

    “The answer to Ori is found in the Quebec system. Canadian parents choose the school, which receives a per-student payment for providing an education that meets standards set by the Quebec government.

    This is why Barry’s argument with Rabbi Shafran is a non-sequitur. Why should the American taxpayer pay for education, period? ”

    Quebec’s history is different than the rest of North America-you have a province which has a different background than the rest of its country. Not only is the religion different the major language is different. One has a situation where the license plates state “je me souviens” I remember-remeber what Quebec before the British won on the Plains of Abraham. The provincial legislature is called the National Assembly after the French model. Canada as a bribe to keep Quebec in the Confederation of Canada-agreed to Quebecs supporting Catholic schools-thus other schoools got some benefit too,

  29. Dag says:

    So Rabbi Shafran,

    Do you believe that vouchers are mean to subsidize those who opt out of Public Schools REGARDLESS of those schools success?

  30. Charles B. Hall says:

    In the post I just submitted the sentence, “Public school advocates will rightfully complain at a government subsidy that is double the per student costs at Bronx High School of Science, funded through local taxes.” is unclear. What I should have said is something like “Public school advocates will rightfully complain at a government subsidy that is double the per student costs at the mostly locally-funded Bronx High School of Science.” or something similar. I regret the confusion.

  31. Charles B. Hall says:

    There are a bit more than six million children in private schools in the US today representing about 11% of K-12 education; about 4% of those are in Jewish schools (about half in Catholic schools). The total tuition expense is probably in the 30 to 40 billion dollar range. Provide vouchers for all those kids, and you will instantly double the number of kids who want to attend private schools, so the commensurate cost doubles. But do you give the kids at the excellent local MO HS in my neighborhood a full voucher for their $25K tuition? Public school advocates will rightfully complain at a government subsidy that is double the per student costs at Bronx High School of Science, funded through local taxes.

    So what would have to happen is a similar program of subsidies for private schools. We are talking around an annual direct cost of 300 billion dollars in new federal funding here just to match the current average tuition. There is a strong case to be made for doing this in the name of fairness, for increasing the ability of poorer school districts to provide adequate education, and for reducing the tremendously burdensome local taxes that fund most public education in the US. This is the kind of thing that liberals like me should enthusiastically support! Is there a politician who will take this on?

  32. Max says:

    There are two flaws in Rabbi Menken’s argument.

    First, as many of us can attest, frum schools can have equally abysmal teachers. A private frum education is not necessarily a higher-quality eduction.

    Second, the statement “we see value in providing an education to every child” depends on what we mean by education. Most Americans see value in providing a secular education to every child. Many would have little problem with some religious studies as well, although that runs into the Establishment Clause. But what about the increasing number of frum schools which have no secular studies, or all the high school yeshivos which have 2 or 3 hours of “english” per day? Most taxpayers would not see value in providing that education, despite their acceptance of diversity.

  33. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, thank you. I agree that the Quebec system of government imposed standards is necessary.

    Now for the elephant. Why are Israeli Charedim so opposed to having the government set standards for their schools to receive government money?

    Shabbat Shalom / Shavua Tov,
    Ori

  34. Yaakov Menken says:

    The answer to Ori is found in the Quebec system. Canadian parents choose the school, which receives a per-student payment for providing an education that meets standards set by the Quebec government.

    This is why Barry’s argument with Rabbi Shafran is a non-sequitur. Why should the American taxpayer pay for education, period? The answer is because we see value in providing an education to every child. Governments do have a right to set standards. Now does that mean we see value in providing a homogeneous system where one size fits all (except the well-to-do), or do we recognize the value of diversity as well as the benefits of forcing schools to meet parental expectations? As things stand now, we accept public schools producing a failing level of education that no private or parochial school would tolerate, and use financial coercion to force children of lower-income parents to remain there.

    In the third grade, I was pulled from public school because the teachers union refused to believe that an ill teacher who routinely fell asleep at her desk and failed to control her class (no, I am not making this up) was not fit for the job. In the ninth grade, my parents pulled my sister from the same private school from which I had graduated, sending her to the excellent local public high school. In both cases, parental choice led to improved educational outcomes. Both happened because my parents could afford both options.

    The American Federation of Teachers cannot find any case, anywhere, where school choice led to worse educational performance over the long term, because parents — given the choice — pull their children from failing schools and put them somewhere better.

    This is why the advocates for public schooling are members of the AFT, their relatives, and those who live in the suburbs, drive SUVs and send their own children to elite institutions. You don’t find downtown residents of American cities living near the poverty line and advocating against school choice. All they want for their children is what Barry can already afford.

  35. Barry says:

    It would be refreshing if Mr. Shafran would own up to wanting vouchers so that the American Taxpayer would pay for his private schools.

  36. Ori says:

    Having grown up in Israel, I vaguely see the outline of a rather large four legged mammal with a trunk. May I raise a couple of questions about parents’ rights with regards to their children’s education?

    I am using extreme examples that are non-Jewish on purpose, to establish a general principle.

    1. Can parents decide they don’t want their children educated? For example, can Joseph the Radical Amish say that basic literacy is enough and his ten years old daughter should now spend her days helping her mother raise the younger children?

    2. Can parents decide what curriculum to use with school vouchers? Yusuf the Muslim believes that the answers to all of the world’s questions are in the Koran. He wants his son to attend a Madrassa who curriculum is 5% Arabic and 95% memorizing the Koran in Arabic. When his son graduates, he’ll be less employable than if he had spent no time at school.

    Do we as a society have a right to require parents that their children be educated, and set minimum requirements for what we call education? Do we have a right to require that tax money will be used for education that is likely to result in job skills that will enable the child to one day make money and pay back the investment in the form of taxes?

  37. joel rich says:

    There is much to be said on this topic but I’ll limit myself to one cautionary though – be careful what you wish for – funding is likely not to come without a more intrusive assertion of the public’s right to monitor those organizations receiving subsidies. Remember all those stories about Volozhin?

    KT

  38. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > Education, after all, is much more than the transfer of information, much more, even, than training minds to think. It is the imparting of attitudes, ideals and values as well, particularly today, when so often both parents (when there even are two) are working

    I would humbly disagree. The problem with the education system today is that the latter, the imparting of attitudes, etc. has replaced the former, the transfer of information. Many high schools and even some universities are in the business of graduating barely literate adults who have great self-esteem but little else to recommend them in the work place.

    The public system is afraid of competition from schools that will impart distinct values AND a real education. The typical socialist response to competition is to shut it down. Hopefully, the private system will continue to prosper and challenge the public system to improve itself.

  39. Bob Miller says:

    If public school advocates also want to subject the nation’s students to a liberal, PC, curriculum as a matter of social policy, they will not accept measures that enhance parental freedom.