Monday, January 09, 2006

School vouchers redux . . .

First, a big shout out to Craig Westover, a/k/a Captain Fishsticks. Sticks is the unctuous columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press who never met a privatization scheme he didn’t like. Sticks is so allergic to the notion of the common good that he breaks out in hives if you just say We’re all in this together to him. Sticks is so . . . well, you get the idea. It won’t surprise you that Sticks thinks that school vouchers for religious schools are a great idea.

Spot has written several times about the unconstitutionality under Article XIII, Section 2 of the Minnesota Constitution of a scheme for school vouchers. You can read those posts here, here, and here. Oh, and maybe best here, in Vouchers Smouchers on Spotty’s other blog Retire Geoff Michel. Gentle readers, you are really, really going to have to read those posts to follow along. Spot is sorry.

Anyway, some time ago, before Spot was born into the blogosphere actually, Captain Fishsticks wrote a post entitled School Vouchers: Constitutionality is a False Issue. In it, Sticks writes that while Article XIII, Section 2 does admittedly bar the use of public funds for sectarian schools in plain language, we should just ignore it because it is the legacy of religious bigotry against Catholics. This is the same argument that Spot’s correspondent Lee McGrath makes, and which Spotty slices and dices with actual principles of constitutional interpretation in the posts referred to above.

Spot has some bad news, boys and girls. Everything written above was the mere preamble to what Spot wants to tell you today.

Some of you may remember that Spotty told you that Article XIII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution, the next door neighbor to the section we have been discussing, also addresses public school provenance. It reads as follows:
Section 1. UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Spot wrote in Vouchers Smouchers that a system of school vouchers would amount to an abandonment of the State’s duty to provide general and uniform public schools. The Supreme Court of Florida recently had the wisdom to agree with Spot. It struck down a voucher system in Florida on the basis of similar language to that contained in Article XIII, Section 1, stating that:

Our inquiry begins with the plain language of the second and third sentences of article IX, section 1(a) of the Constitution. The relevant words are these: “It is . . . a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Using the same term,“adequate provision” article IX, section 1(a) further states: “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” For reasons expressed more fully below, we find that the OSP [Opporunity Scholarship Program] violates this language. It diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not “uniform” when compared with each other or the public system. Many standards imposed by law on the public schools are inapplicable to the private schools receiving public monies. In sum, through the OSP the state is fostering plural, nonuniform systems of education in direct violation of the constitutional mandate for a uniform system of free public schools.

Wow, that’s pretty frank. But Spot says it is spot on. The case is Bush v. Holmes, Docket No. SC04-2323. You can read about it here, and even get your own copy of the decision from the newspaper article.

What was especially interesting to Spot is that the Florida Supreme Court said the voucher plan was such a stinker under the uniform public schools requirement of the Florida Constitution that it didn’t even need to address the religious establishment issue.

In other words, all of Sticks’ huffing and puffing about ignoring the Minnesota Constitution because of religious bigotry – and that’s all it is, huffing and puffing – is irrelevant. Voucher program are unconstitutional in Florida, and in Minnesota, on educational grounds, wholly apart from religious grounds.

You see, Sticks, when people were considering the nature and qualities of the government they wanted, lo those many years ago, they didn’t want to be social Darwinist hunter-gathers like you. Sorry.


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