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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Palin Caved on Vouchers

As with any politician (or human being, for that matter), there will always be one or more issues where we may disagree.

As much as I like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, I believe she caved on the issue of school vouchers.

CNS News reports that she believes vouchers are unconstitutional.

“No,” Palin said. “It is unconstitutional and it is as simple as that.”
She also said she would not support amending the Alaska Constitution.

Despite hysteria about "separation of church and state" from the Left, there is nothing in the United States Constitution prohibiting vouchers, so long as they are available regardless of religion.

But the Alaska Constitution is a different matter.

According to Article 7 Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution on public education:

The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.

Do we want a public education system that is controlled exclusively by a religious institution? Of course not. And we certainly wouldn't want taxpayer funds going to support a monopolistic education system run by a particular religious organization.

But allowing families to spend their rightful portion of the per-child tax allocation for education on a school of their choice that happens to be run by a religious organization? It certainly parses both the U.S. Constitutional question and the common sense question.

The matter of clarifying or amending the Alaska state constitution is, of course, a matter for the people of Alaska to take up as they see fit, but the amendment process is a legitimate option.

The Alaska Family Council has an article by Wendy Cloyd in their September 2006 newsletter which indicates Palin's position on vouchers may be more complicated or nuanced than a quick answer can explain.

The Alaska Voter's Guide, produced and distributed by AFC, asked candidates a series of eight questions intended to vet where each stood on key pro-family issues. Number eight focused on the topic of school choice.

The question posed was: "Would you support legislation to create a system of educational vouchers that would provide Alaska students with some financial assistance to attend a public, private or religious school of their choice?"

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin answered, "Yes." Her main opponent in the race, former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles answered, "No." The Alaska chapter of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher's union in Alaska -- which does not support a voucher program -- pounced on Palin, asking her to clarify her position at their own candidate forum. But Palin's response to them left as many questions as it did answers.

She told the teachers' union that she had made a mistake on the AFC questionnaire and really meant to check, "No." "School vouchers are not permitted under the state constitution," she said in a follow-up statement. "I do support parental choice with public funding for charter, home schools, and vocational training." That's when the controversy began.

Bill Bjork, president of NEA-Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News that it was his understanding Palin "was clearly not seeking to change the Alaska constitution in that area."

Democrats, of course, accused Palin of flip-flopping. While that is possible, could it have been that when she gave her original pro-voucher answer, she hadn't considered a prohibition in the Alaska constitution (since there isn't one in the U.S. Constitution)? Or that while she might like the idea in theory, it isn't high enough on her lists of priorities that she wants to pick a contentious fight over it?

Until we learn more, that may remain a matter of conjecture. But it does appear, even after her answer to the NEA, that she supports the concept of vouchers for most educational alternatives--just not those which seem to be prohibited by the Alaska Constitution.

One thing that isn't a matter of conjecture, however, are the Christian foundation of the education system in America.

In Colonial times and for many years after the birth of the United States, the Bible was a key (if not the key) textbook in schools.

The New England Primer was the second-best selling book in America (after the Bible). First published around 1690, there were 5 million copies in circulation in 1776...and only about 4 million people in the Colonies. It was the book used to teach children of that age to read and write. It contained Biblical lessons that would be considered quite advanced today. Even the ABCs contained theological lessons:

A – In ADAM'S Fall We sinned all.
B - Heaven to find; The Bible Mind
C - Christ crucify'd For sinners dy'd.
D - The Deluge drown'd The Earth around. (yes, they were creationists, too)

So how did Founder Patrick Henry see the Bible compared to other books:

"The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed."

Gouverneur Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, said, “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.”

Samuel Adams also saw the importance of religious instruction for young minds: “Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, united their endeavours to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity…in short of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.”

Thomas Jefferson saw the Bible as an aid to making better citizens: "I have always said, and will always say, that studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens."

The revered Noah Webster said, “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most import and and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 affirmed this important link between religious instruction and education:

“Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

The view that the Bible and religious training are essential to a healthy society and a free people hadn't diminished in the century following the birth of the United States, either. As Horace Greeley said, "It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom."

Even though revisionists have succeeded in almost completely severing the connection between the Bible and the public school system, shouldn't free Americans have the liberty to use their share of the tax pie to see their children educated in an institution which teaches in a fashion complimentary to their values? Especially if other institutions get better academic results, too?

Most of us agree that competition among providers of goods and services is a good thing; I don't remember much bad press about the monopoly lawsuit against Microsoft a few years ago. We usually consider it a good thing to have several department stores so we can shop around. We normally like having a number of mechanics to choose from to work on our cars. We like being able to choose our phone service from a number of different companies and plans.

Then why do we consider it a good thing to have only one monolithic education system to prepare our children to be successful adults? Especially when that education system seems to be turning out a worse and worse academic product--and even more dangerous moral product--every year?

The religious question aside, there doesn't seem to be any practical or philosophical reason why vouchers couldn't be created to help parents who wanted a better education for their children at a private secular school.

But that begs the next question: if it's okay to seek a better education for your child at a secular private school, why can you not do so at a private school that happens to be run by a religious group, or incorporates religious teaching with the academic subjects? Is it simply because we have a bias against religion? Do we have a fear of religion? Do we bear animus toward religion?

If we're honestly seeking what is best for our children, both academically and morally, shouldn't we be looking not for a one-size-fits-all solution that might work, but the best solution we can possibly find?

Or is our priority really to protect the education establishment, the feathered-nests of which it is comprised, and an agenda to sanitize religious values from the minds of our youth?

So where are vouchers on my list of public policy priorities? Important...but considerably down there. Things like national security, the War on Terrorism, pro-life issues, marriage, religious freedom, gun rights, proactive energy policy, free market health care reform, and a few others come first.

I've been educating my children at my own expense--while involuntarily funding the public education fiasco, er, system through my taxes--for some time now. I don't like the double-standard (that secularists get to use my taxes to teach their children that morality and religion are irrelevant, but I don't get to use my taxes to teach my children that religion and morality are relevant to every area of life), but continuing under this unfair system isn't as imminently threatening to the welfare of the nation as some of these other areas.

Hopefully Palin will come around on this issue, or at least see it more worthy of fighting for in the public policy arena.

Is her capitulation in this area a disappointment? Yes. Will it keep me from supporting the Republican ticket in 2008? Not in the least.


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