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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
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Beyond Church And State: School Vouchers And The Blaine Amendment


“Participation in those programs in voluntary,” he said. “The key is that no one is forced to participate and the taxpayer has free choice where to donate their funds, so you don’t run into the Blaine Amendment barrier.”

Franklin said that Teach NYS is making scholarship tax credits their priority this year. “The teachers’ unions are going to be so thrilled about it, because it means also advancing non-public schools,” he said, but he hopes that their fight against Tier 6, a proposed new pension plan that includes reductions in benefits and increases in employee contributions, will keep them busy.

“Non-public schools get less than 1% [of state education funding] and we educate 15% of kids in the state,” he said. “You don’t have to pay us dollar for dollar, but the state should do something to recognize that we’re saving them money; we’re paying taxes and not using most of the tax money.”

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3 Responses to “Beyond Church And State: School Vouchers And The Blaine Amendment”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    The article should have quoted the exact language of New York's Blaine Amendment:

    N.Y. Const. art. XI, � 3: "Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning."

    The only way you can get vouchers to be permitted under this draconian language is to assume that the words don't mean what they mean, and that the authors did not mean what they wrote.

    An attempt was made to repeal the Blaine Amendment as part of a general Constitutional revision in 1967. The Convention that wrote the revision was controlled by Democrats loyal to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, Gov. Rockefeller gave it only lukewarm support, and the rest of the Republican Party including Lt. Gov. Wilson openly opposed it. In the referendum that fall it gathered only 28% of the vote, losing every county. And that has been typical for voucher referenda in the US; they have lost every single time they have been put to a vote, usuallly by landslide margins — same sex marriage referenda actually have a better record.

    The author of the article could have also mentioned that most Catholic schools in New York — who would be the big beneficiaries of vouchers — are unionized. If Jewish schools would allow the same union in, that would help to build a coalition of supporters.

    But a lot of things would have to happen to get from here to there. First, property taxes would have to be dramatically lowered. They are already at near-confiscatory levels in the NY suburbs, and to have to fund inefficient private schools as well would be politically impossible. That can only be done by massive school district consolidation. The entire state of Maryland gets along perfectly well with 24 school districts; why does Westchester County need 48 and Nassau County 56?

    Second, we would have to explain to people that contrary to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who were openly hostile to religion, it is quite possible for a free country to support religious institutions. There are religious schools in Canada, France, Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom — and probably some other countries I don't know about — that get direct public support; the quid pro quo is that they have to teach the government mandated secular curriculum in its entirety. Partly as a result, the religious schools there are of higher quality than in the US. That such a militantly secular country as France can figure out a way to pay for the entire cost of the secular studies program at Jewish schools speaks volumes. In none of the countries I listed is there any restriction whatsoever on religious freedom and in fact it can be easily argued that religious groups play a much more minor role in public life.

    Finally, the coalition would have to be very broad. Poor minority parents whose children are stuck in lousy public schools would be natural allies; why does so much of the Orthodox political spectrum align with right wing causes that are anathema to them? I've already mentioned the unions as a possible ally. Another set of potential allies are the education reformers who ought to be concerned about the lousy secular education in many religious schools (and yes, that includes Jewish schools, too).

    I will admit that my own thinking on this has turned around 180 degrees. I used to be a Jefferson/Madison partisan; their interpretation of the First Amendment really is about the same as that held by the ACLU — and remember that Madison was its author! But having visited the countries I mentioned above, seeing middle class families reduced to near poverty by yeshiva tuition, and seeing yeshiva faculty miss paycheck after paycheck because the yeshiva is out of cash caused me to change my opinion. And if this stubborn writer can change, anyone can.

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    I can't believe that a day later I'm still the only person to have commented on this.

  3. Stephen Leavitt says:

    Charlie Hall I was surprised too.

Comments are closed.

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