When the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit against Arizona’s tax-credit scholarship program in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn in 2011, it set the stage for similar strategies in other states. The latest example is Florida, where private-school scholarships are financed entirely by charitable contributions, which are then offset by tax credits (“Florida’s School Choice Showdown,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 13).
The scholarships are available only for students who qualify for federal free or reduced school lunches. So far, about 70 percent of these students are minorities. A teachers’ union lawsuit argues that the program’s growth cuts into the $6,944 in state funding that each student would get by attending public school. I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt the union will prevail because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which upheld the use of vouchers as long as they went directly to parents to use as they saw fit.
I support parental choice, but as I’ve written often before there will always be students whose parents are not involved enough in their education to take advantage of the options open to them (“What Applying to Charter Schools Showed Me About Inequality,” The Atlantic, Mar 20). Perhaps that’s why voters have consistently rejected vouchers or their variants by substantial margins in 27 state-wide referendums. Their reasons may vary, but it is clear that voters are not yet ready to give up on traditional public schools.
That’s why the ultimate fate of tax-credit scholarships is still in doubt. I see them as an end-run around the will of the people, although I have to give their creators high marks for creativity.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.