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If you happen to be a New Democrat, say, or some other variety of government-friendly pragmatist, vouchers are a great idea. Increased competition in the education sector as a whole will delight you, and the increased regulation of private schools won't bother you much. The Right's unalloyed enthusiasm for vouchers is a bit harder to justify. Conservatives want to get the state out of public education; they may succeed at getting the state into private education. Twenty years from now, they may be slapping their foreheads and saying, "What were we thinking when we crusaded to hook private schools on public money?" And the teachers unions, which by then may have extended many of today's anticompetitive public school rules to the private realm, may be saying, "Boy, were we ever lucky we lost that fight. Now all schools are public."
So the 6th Circuit has a point, but not the point it thinks it has. Vouchers pose the risk of a public-private entanglement that is probably constitutional (and certainly should be), but that is not without cost. A reservoir of diverse and rambunctious and independent private schools, where you can teach Afrocentric creationist gay sex education without apologizing to anybody, serves legitimate liberty interests and helps stem the conformism of McSchools. At least for the poorest children in the poorest schools, I'll take vouchers, and the strings that go with them, over the current system. But there must be a better way.
Bill, I think you can see where this is going. Some of the country's most successful school voucher programs are privately funded. The trouble is that these private programs are much too small. When the $100 million Children's Scholarship Fund offered partial scholarships to poor children in failing schools, it received 1.25 million applications, or 30 times more than it could hope to accommodate. Hundreds of thousands of families were turned away.
By my very rough calculation, your $56 billion could endow a fund that could provide partial or full private-school scholarships for anywhere from an eighth to a quarter of all poor school-age children, indefinitely. Because many poor children will want to stay in public schools -- and because public schools will improve to keep them -- you could give many, or even most, poor children a ticket out of educational destitution. You could do it at virtually no risk to private education. You could do it with no fear of entangling church with state. You could do it nationally and virtually overnight; the teachers unions and politicians couldn't say boo. You could make Rockefeller look like a piker.
Gates Scholarships would change the face of American education. Poor children, their hard-pressed parents, private schools, and ultimately public schools would all be winners. What do you say, Bill?