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Friday, June 28, 2002

School Choice: The Newspapers Strike Back

In the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in favor of school vouchers, The Washington Post and USA Today have duplicitous articles on the topic. The Post claims "polls show that Americans remain skeptical, if not hostile, toward vouchers..." The article cites not polling data, however, but results from three failed school voucher votes, one in Michigan and two in California, where the government school lobby outspent choice advocates by margins of 6 to 1 or greater, mobilized their members to canvas neighborhoods, and ran massive advertising campaigns falsely claiming that vouchers would drain money from government schools (the reality is that when a child opts out of the system, the school gets to keep a significant chunk of his subsidy).

Had the Post reporter been interested in reporting actual polling results, he might have used data from a poll conducted just last week of 600 Michigan voters by an independent polling agency. This poll found that 44% favor a Cleveland-style voucher program for their state, 48% favor giving a tax rebate to parents who send their children to private schools, and 56% favor doing the same for charitable school choice efforts. Two-thirds favor a tax credit for scholarships enabling parents to choose the private or public school of their choice. This in a union-dominated state, after an ugly and dishonest campaign by state teachers unions against a voucher initiative.

This isn't an isolated data point. When questions are asked in an honest fashion (see the poll link above for examples) so that vouchers are explained to the respondent (the Post's own May 2000 survey found that 44 percent of respondents don't know what a voucher is), majorities or large minorities of Americans favor school choice. In fact, this result has been so frustrating to the government school lobby and its shills that they have resorted to asking misleading questions designed to elicit a negative response, as highly respected social science professor Terry Moe makes clear in this report.

USA Today is a little better than the Post in that it cites an actual poll, but in typical style it fails to provide the question that was asked of respondents. What's more, it only reports the percentage of respondents opposed (54%) to "vouchers for low-income families" (leaving the alert reader to wonder whether respondents were asked a question that caused them to conflate this with welfare). Thus we don't know if the undecideds were 2% or 20%, and therefore the corresponding percentage of supporters. If 40% of respondents in fact support vouchers, it suddenly becomes harder for the reporters to claim that "Americans aren't sold on such programs to improve education."

The most shameful part of the USA Today article, however, is this paragraph:

"There are competing claims about the value of private-school vouchers and whether they would hurt or help public schools. A U.S. General Accounting Office report last year said studies have found little or no difference in academic achievement between voucher and public school students."

A reader expecting a balanced treatment goes to the next paragraph looking for results of studies showing that vouchers do in fact improve educational results, an expectation primed by the lead of the preceding paragraph ("There are competing claims..."). Fat chance -- the reporters don't provide such results, despite their abundance. In this they take a page from the NEA handbook; its website reports "the facts" about school choice, but conveniently omits academic studies from Harvard and other places demonstrating significant improvements in student achievement associated with school choice programs.

Of course the polling debate is a misleading frame; this is an issue of parental rights. The question is simple: should parents have the right to choose where and by whom their children are educated? It's amazing how people who get bent out of shape over the denial of choice in any other sphere of life suddenly forget what the word means when the conversation turns to schools.

But let's suppose, for a moment, that The Post and USA Today and the NEA and other government school champions are right, that Americans oppose school vouchers. Well, as a clever columnist for National Review Online noted, there can't be any harm in offering them, can there? If it is true that most parents don't want the option to take their children out of government schools, then the teachers unions should welcome such an option with open arms, as definitive proof that the vast majority of their customers support them, right?

Don't count on it.

posted by Woodlief | link | (3) comments

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Establishment Clause

You should check out the take Spoons has on the Ninth Circuit's recent decision that the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."). Here's a hint as to his point of view: his post is entitled "The Ninth Circuit Got it Right."

I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but I think he may be partially right, yet critically wrong. The action by Congress to amend the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 so that it included the phrase "under God" is probably what the Founders would have considered a law, and hence is unconstitutional. I think Spoons (and the many respectable conservatives and libertarians who agree with him) is too willing to accept the court's framing of this issue, however. Let me explain.

First, please indulge me in leaving aside the evolution of Constitutional law on this issue. The question I want to address is not whether, given the precedent of earlier Supreme Court rulings on the Establishment Clause, the Ninth Circuit's reasoning is out of bounds. It is increasingly the case that when one discusses Constitutional matters, one must distinguish between an interpretation of the Framers' intent, and the evolution of Supreme Court rulings, which in many cases are wildly beyond the intent of the Framers. Thus we may ask: 1) Is this ruling in accordance with the wording of the Constitution, as reasonably intended by the Framers; or, 2) Is this ruling in accordance with the wording of the Constitution, as subsequently interpreted by several generations of judges?

I prefer to stick to #1, because I think that takes us to the question of whether we can be outraged at the Ninth Circuit Court's recent decision, which is really what this debate is about. I think it's fairly clear that the Ninth Circuit Court would be correct in ruling that the action of the Congress in 1954 was unconstitutional (but for you precedent-worshippers, i.e., those who want to stick to Question #2, above, you are obligated to explain why we don't adhere to the precedent set by the courts in 1954, when they decided not to rule said action unconstitutional). But what does such a ruling get us? Nothing, really, beyond the conclusion that the national state and its organs cannot compel citizens to recite this version of the Pledge, or take any action to restrain the recitation of alternative Pledges, or spend any public monies promoting this particular version of the Pledge.

So, what if we construe the recitation of the "under God" version of the Pledge as voluntary? In other words, what if today, millions of students decide, during the requisite morning "moment of meditation," to recite the "under God" version? I don't think one can reasonably argue that affording them the opportunity to do so in the government schools is itself unconstitutional, which is what the majority on the Ninth Circuit Court has asserted. (Indeed, one might argue that in forbidding Congress to make such laws the Framers never intended to forbid all state government expressions of faith, but this is another can of worms.)

In short, a fair reading of the Establishment Clause suggests that while it is within the boundaries of the Framers' intent to declare the 1954 Congressional amendment of the Pledge unconstitutional, it is decidedly out of bounds to conclude that this precludes the recitation of the "under God" version in government schools, so long as students are not compelled to join in.

Many of you want to argue, and will argue, that condoning this practice on government property is tantamount to a violation of the Establishment Clause. I think in doing so, you step into Question #2 above, i.e., you are making an assertion based on the framing of this question by decades of loose constructionist judges, rather than on the wording of the clause itself, and most importantly, on the information about the intent of this wording that can be derived from the actions and statements of the Framers themselves. A reasonable reading of the Framers' intent makes clear that they did not forbid utterances of faith on government property -- as witnessed by the fact that they permitted prayer in their own assemblages.

So where does that leave us? It seems to me that while the Ninth Circuit Court is legitimate in declaring a 1954 act of Congress unconstitutional, it is equally legitimate for government school teachers to thumb their noses at the Court, and continue to lead their students in the Pledge, so long as students who choose not to participate are not censured. And thumbing our noses at the Court, especially the Ninth Circuit, is probably a good thing. The Founders, I'm quite certain, would wholeheartedly approve.

posted by Woodlief | link | (11) comments

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution Ruled Unconstitutional

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, following on its recent decision declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, has ruled that both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are in fact unconstitutional as well.

"The Declaration of Independence refers to a Creator as the basis of man's rights, while the Constitution was ratified under a clause referring to the 'year of our Lord,'" observed a court spokesman. "Given this clear evidence, the court had no choice but to nullify both the Declaration of Independence and the signatures of the thirteen Constitutional Convention delegates. We have hereby ordered the territory known as the United States to be handed over immediately to the government of the United Kingdom for proper disposition."

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Sticking it to Wal-Mart

Remember my prediction that Wal-Mart's pre-eminence on the Fortune 500 list would invite lawsuits from parasites seeking a cut of the action? It looks like NOW is getting in on the pillaging.

What's interesting is the chutzpah these girls display in their self-righteous pronouncement. You can guess the grievances: not enough women in management, disparities in pay, hosiery is overpriced, not enough loving lesbian parents depicted in the advertisements, etc. But check out this justification, from NOW president Kim Gandy:

"Wal-Mart is number one on the Fortune 500 list. It's also the number one most sued retailer in the United States. It doesn't take a genius to see the problem with this picture."

In short, we're suing because they have a lot of money, and get sued a lot. Who said NOW isn't honest?

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Papa, Let's Talk About That Home

Amusing story here about a misguided Sicilian who told his five year-old grandson that money isn't important. The grandson took a thousand buck note (Italian bucks, which means it's equal to about 23 cents, I think) from his father's wallet, shredded it, and threw it out the window.

Keep that commie talk to yourself, Nonno.

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments