The dystopian nightmare of parents choosing their child’s school

Abandoned classroom, Creative Commons via Pexel user Khaled Akacha.

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This week, Republicans held a news conference, with both state House and Senate sponsors of a bill, named “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future,” that would make Opportunity Scholarships, often called vouchers, available to all N.C. families.

The value of the scholarships would be dependent on income, with lower-income families getting 100% of the per-pupil allotment to spend on a private school of their choice, and the wealthiest getting 45% of that amount. Before money would be available to other income brackets, the first 50% of the money allotted would have to be claimed by those in the lowest-income segment.

Recently minted Republican Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, was one of those speaking for the House sponsors at the press conference, alongside Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Of course, Democrats took all this really well. Even before the announcement, Gov. Roy Cooper began bashing the bill on Twitter. It seemed like his main concern was that the children of every billionaire in the state would immediately apply for a voucher to bankroll a fancy, prep-school education.

Some enterprising sleuth named David Larson decided to Google how many billionaires reside in North Carolina. One article said there were three; another said there were four. So he went with four to be safe and then researched how many of them had school-age children. His results are below.

So, it appears there are zero children of billionaires likely to take advantage of these scholarships, which should make the governor feel a bit better about the situation. But just imagine if a fifth billionaire moves here with a brood of six. We might be forced to dip into our state’s rainy-day fund.

But more importantly, will Christians be allowed to use these?

The prospect of one of the state’s four billionaire’s having another child and educating them using vouchers was not the only horrifying possibility critics pondered. They also considered the revolting potential of bigoted religious people using public money to pass on their despicable worldview.

N.C. Newsline, the left-wing publication formerly known as N.C. Policy Watch, posted an article declaring that those pushing for private-school vouchers “owe us answers.” A Bible is ominously positioned on a school desk hinting at what the issue might be.

Justin Parmenter, an education activist with the left-wing N.C. Association of Educators (and, I hear, a teacher as well), went to work digging up the scariest Christian schools he could find to show just what is at stake. For example, High Point Christian Academy actually wants students “to know God,” and if any of them disrupt the “harmony” of campus, they may get kicked out. Scary stuff.

He also found a school that apparently baptized students without parental permission. Since the schools openly states that the Bible is the most important textbook in the curriculum (a point Parmenter also frets over), I’m sure parents had a little warning as to the Christian motives of the teachers and administrators.

But, setting that aside, I agree that if a school is going to preach a particular worldview, parents should be informed of what’s going on and should especially be informed if the students decide to take any drastic steps to change their identity, like through a public profession of faith.

On a totally unrelated note, Parmenter and the NCAE strongly oppose parents having the right to be informed when a student decides to change their identity in a different way, like a way that involves being called by a new name and new pronouns and using the bathrooms of the opposite biological sex. To be clear, parents should be informed in both circumstances. But at least at the private school, there is accountability. In a world with vouchers, a low-income parent can pull their child out and go to another school. Without them, only wealthy parents have that option, while others are forced to stay with the public school.

Kyle Parish, who was the Democratic Party candidate against Rep. Virginia Foxx in North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, where he lost by a mere 25%, summarized the left’s fear succinctly:

His point on the Establishment Clause is a common one by those who don’t know precedent in this area. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has two clauses on religion — one called the “Establishment Clause” and the other the “Free Exercise Clause,” which together read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The idea here from the founders was for everyone to be able to practice their religion while not infringing on others’ right to do the same — two principles in tension.

When balancing these two clauses in regards to public education, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Carson v Makin that allowing public money from vouchers to go to religious schools in not a violation of the Establishment Clause, as long as the vouchers can be used by people of all faiths.

And while Cooper, Parmenter, and other opponents of school choice want to paint that future as a horrible dystopia of Creationism and bigotry, it is exactly the kind of healthy pluralism this country needs. Without it, we are doomed to a zero-sum battle for control over whose values rule the curriculum. It’s the progressive worldview at the moment that rules (hence their fear over losing their grip on the system), but at other times Protestant Christian values had the upper hand.

But we don’t have to fight that battle. Everyone can pass on their values under school choice. It’s not just Protestant and Catholic Christians that can use voucher money. In fact, the largest beneficiary of Opportunity Scholarship in the early days of the program was the Greensboro Islamic Academy. But religious schools will hardly be the only schools parents choose. Yes, wealthy families may use the program to pay for a portion of a prep school tuition; maybe this will even include one or two children of billionaires eventually. Left-wing progressives can use the scholarships to fund a school that aligns with their values (even though the public school system already mostly has that covered).

And that’s the beauty of it. Each family will get to educate their children in accordance with their values, with public money being used to ensure we each have an opportunity to choose which school does that best. Their dystopian nightmare looks a lot more like a pluralist dream where we all win.

Read the bill for yourself below:

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