Thursday, December 01, 2016

Are School Vouchers on the Horizon?

VP-elect Mike Pence, President-elect Donald Trump & Betsy DeVos (Forward)
As I said during the campaign, I agreed more with Trump’s stated positions on many issues than I did with Clinton’s - but I still felt that he was incompetent and grossly unfit to be President for a variety of reasons. And perhaps even a dangerous choice to be the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

But as I also said after the election, now that he has been the choice of the majority of each state’s voters (in most states) resulting in 306 electoral college votes, President-elect Trump will be our 45th President. We therefore have no choice but to give him a chance to prove to those of us that voted against him – that we were wrong.

Another thing I said is that I never thought the real Trump was the Trump we saw during the campaign. I believe now (even more than I did during the campaign) that his campaign rhetoric and antics were just tactics to get elected. And they worked. Who the real Trump is – we are beginning to find out by the choices he’s already made for some cabinet portions – and the choices he’s considering for other cabinet positions.

One of the things that Trump seems to favor is school choice. The woman he chose as Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos, an advocate of school choice. Which is what school vouchers are all about.

School vouchers allow parents to send their children to the school of their choice instead of the local public school (as the system currently operates – for the most part). They are given government vouchers that will help pay for their child’s education directly to that school.

If this were to somehow become the law of the land, the tuition crises all those of us that send our children to religious day schools and high schools face - would practically disappear. 

Many argue that the voucher program as applied to a religious school is a violation of the ‘establishment clause’ of the first amendment. I can hear the argument. But only if the money is used for religious studies. If it is used for secular studies, I see no contradiction. 

And neither does the state of Indiana that has a voucher program. My daughter and her family recently moved to South Bend and are the beneficiaries of their voucher program. Their tuition is substantially lower than it was when they lived in Skokie and sent their children to one of the Chicago day schools. 

When they lived here - like everyone else in Chicago, their tuition payments were backbreaking. Not so in South Bend. Imagine if the voucher program were brought to places like New York and Chicago. What a blessing that would be for us and every other parent – Jew and non Jew alike – that would have the opportunity to find and afford the school best suited for their child instead of the public school in their neighborhood. Which they are ‘forced’ to send their children to because of the limited finances of most parents!

Under past administrations – both Republican and Democratic, vouchers were rejected in capitulation to teachers unions whose first priority is to secure the teaching jobs of their members leaving the actual education their their students in second place.

Unions have been crying that vouchers would destroy free public education. Well, it hasn’t done so in Indiana. There is no reason to believe it will do so in New York or Chicago. What it probably will do is increase the level of education provided in those public schools so that they can compete with the private schools parents with vouchers will be able to afford to send their children to. 

Some teachers will no doubt lose their jobs in such heightened competition. But those are the teachers that shouldn’t be teaching our children anyway. These incompetent teachers are the ones whose jobs the teachers unions protects! I believe they end up doing so at the expense of their students’ education. It is no secret that the education at some inner city schools is practically non existent.  A voucher program would go a long way to eliminating those schools.

I see only a plus coming out of this. As Rabbi Avi Shafran says in a Forward article, we Jews ought to be happy with Mrs. DeVos as Trump’s Secretary of Education. Instead of being a lapdog to teachers unions, Mrs. Devos – it seems will be putting students first ala a voucher system like the one in Indiana. And hopefully tuition paying parents like us will be beneficiaries of that in a major way.

Rabbi Shafran wrote that oped to counter the absurd assertions made by Forward columnist, Jay Michaelson. Who said that Mrs. Devos has an agenda to ‘Re-Christianize America’. I’m not so sure that would sit well with her boss, Mr. Trump. All of whose grandchildren are Jewish. Or his Orthodox Jewish daughter, Ivanka. Or some of his top advisers who are Jewish. Besides as Rabbi Shafran notes - the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has funded programs that would counter any kind of objective to Re-Christianize America.

I would even go a step further and ask, Would a Re-Christianized America be such a bad thing? I sure don’t think so - provided the first amendment to the constitution remains inviolable. And I don’t really see anyone in government – even the most devout Evangelical Christian – ever suspending the first amendment. Which is a founding principle of this country.  Couldn’t the United States use a little more religion these days?