A Challenge to School Choice from the Right


Michael McShane points out a challenge coming from the political right that advocates for school choice will have to address:

…when I moved back to America’s heartland and traveled a bit more off the beaten path, I encountered a new argument that might be more threatening to the spread of school choice than anything the AFT’s Randi Weingarten or the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia can throw at it. It is the fear that by accepting government dollars, private schools — particularly private religious schools — are opening themselves to a government takeover. “With shekels come shackles” is how a man in Michigan put it to me. A brilliant op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called it the “Pharaoh Effect.”

This is not an entirely unwarranted concern. For decades, private and religious schools have been able to coexist peaceably with American public schools. But Obamacare’s contraception mandate has increased government’s attempted influence on the inner workings of religious organizations. And if the Little Sisters of the Poor aren’t safe in America, who’s to say a school will be?

Some of the most vocal opposition that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity faced to its Bright Today proposal, last legislative session, came from home schoolers who fear that opening this door will let the government into their homes.  Frankly, I’ve been making a variation of this argument when it comes to charter schools.  My initial suspicions blossomed into concern when I read McShane’s report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice detailing how some Catholic schools were closing their doors and reopening as non-religious charter schools.

This area definitely merits careful policy decisions as school choice expands (which it will).  That’s life, though.  The enemy is always lurking in the woods along the path.  We can’t just stay home in fear that we’ll lose what we have.  That strategy will only empower the enemy to come and take it.