Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, December 15, 2023

A Misguided Attack on Educational Choice in Commonweal

A recent issue of Commonweal includes an unfortunate, and unsound, attack on school choice called "The Battle Against School Vouchers", by Luke Mayville.  Let's start with the fact -- and, to be clear, it is a fact -- that Catholic Social Teaching clearly supports policies that not only permit Catholic schools to operate as Catholic schools but also that make it possible for parents to choose such schools.  To put the matter differently, the standard anti-pluralism argument of school-choice opponents that, somehow, school-choice programs "take money away from public education" is unsound:  Public education, correctly understood, is the education of the public; it is not limited to education delivered by government employees in state-owned buildings.

Mayville draws on a variety of tropes in the first paragraph:  "In place of a school system that is publicly funded, democratically governed, and accessible to all, policy entrepreneurs have sought to transform American education into a commodity—something to be bought and sold in a free market."  Let's put aside that systems of state schools in the United States are not, in a meaningful sense, "democratically governed."  Let's also put aside the notion that using market mechanisms, and permitting choice, insidiously transforms education (from what?) into a "commodity." The fact is that the "policy entrepreneurs" in question have sought to expand the range of "publicly funded" educational opportunities and options and thereby to better meet the needs, reflect the values, and empower the decisions of "all".

Mayville also gets the law quite wrong:  "Meanwhile, voucher proponents were energized by landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court, most notably Espinoza v. Montana in 2020 and Carson v. Makin in 2022, both of which appeared to remove constitutional obstacles to the use of public dollars for private religious education."  In fact, as MOJ readers probably know, "the use of public dollars for private religious education" (again, this misstates the issue:  school choice involves using "public" dollars, to which parents who choose religious rather than government schools are no less entitled, for education, provided by non-state schools) has been, in various circumstances, constitutionally permissible for decades.  Espinoza and Carson -- correctly -- affirmed that governments may not single out religious private schools, as opposed to other non-state schools, for discriminations.

The piece continues with various false political-advocacy claims, and recounts efforts to block school-choice (and preserve the interests of those who benefit from the current monopoly), and descends into various teacher-union talking points.  None of this kind of thing is new, but what does seem new, and disappointing, is that the piece -- without any engagement with Catholic Social Teaching -- ran in one the longest running Catholic journals.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


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