A Blow for Justice

  By any measure, Florida's public schools fall woefully short. Test scores are terrible, and only half the students graduate from high school. The numbers are even worse in poor communities. So one would think that those who represent these communities would welcome a chance for kids to escape failing schools. But you'd think wrong, because in Florida, as in the rest of the country, politics often comes before the well-being of children. The new governor, Jeb Bush, realized that tinkering with the system wouldn't solve the problem. So he proposed a statewide voucher system that would provide an escape hatch for kids attending the worst schools. Under the plan, state officials would assign every public school in the state a grade: A, B, C, D, or F, based on how well its students do on standardized tests. Students who attend schools receiving an "F" would be eligible for the vouchers, worth up to $4,000, which they could then use at the private or parochial school of their parents' choice. Students at 160 schools in the state are expected to be eligible for vouchers. The plan passed the legislature last Friday, and the governor promised to sign the bill into law with, as his press secretary put it, "a smile on his face." But even before he had a chance to pull out his pen, critics were crying "foul!" Democratic Rep. James Bush of Miami warned that the bill would cause Florida to "lose a lot of teachers" and would produce a "massive exodus of students leaving the public schools." What makes Representative Bush's comments painfully ironic is that his district is home to some of Florida's worst public schools. Thus, it's his constituents who stand to benefit most from the vouchers. Yet, instead of shedding tears over all the young lives ruined by inferior public schools, he was crying about the loss of public school teachers' jobs. Now what could account for these misplaced priorities? Politics. Public employee unions, especially teachers unions, are the core constituency of the Democratic Party. They contribute time and money to get Democratic candidates elected. Teachers unions see voucher plans as a threat to the public school monopoly and to their jobs. So in exchange for the union's support, Democratic politicians join in the opposition, even when, as in Representative Bush's case, it runs counter to their own constituents' best interests. What makes this opposition go beyond ironic to hypocritical is that many teachers don't send their kids to the school systems they so ardently defend. Across the country, public school teachers are twice as likely as other parents to send their kids to private schools. Well, Christians need to remind their neighbors that programs like Florida's are not a matter of aid for private or religious schools. They are a matter of justice. There is no good moral reason to condemn the poorest children to inferior schools when there are good alternatives. On the contrary, it is immoral to hold these kids hostage to the desires of powerful political interests. The courts will undoubtedly hear appeals—and maybe the vouchers will be struck down. But we'll keep fighting. I believe what we've seen in Florida will soon sweep across this country. This is an idea whose time has come, and for our children, that is very good news.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary