A low-court ruling to stop Douglas County’s school voucher program is a decision to segregate and oppress. Higher courts will likely side with parents and children, not special interests and bureaucrats.
Our country’s dark history of segregation and enforced bigotry was the product of government regulation. Third-grader Linda Brown could not attend her nearby school in Topeka, Kan., because government ordered her to ride the bus to a black school. All Jim Crow laws were the work of governments with power to control the decisions of individuals.
Deregulation — the reduction of government power — has been the road to freedom. Brown v. Board of Education was a ruling that limited government and deregulated individuals by overturning Plessy v. Ferguson — a pro-government ruling that empowered governments to impose segregation on individuals. The courts are a branch of government that sometimes empower other branches and other times gut their authority in favor of liberty.
When Denver District Judge Michael Martinez blocked the voucher program, he chose to empower local government to restrict decisions of parents and children. That’s why Diana Oakley testified near tears at the injunction hearing. She correctly feared the court would limit her son’s options. The boy has autism. She planned to use his voucher to pay for a private school that could help him succeed. As a result of the ruling, at least for now, the boy’s hopes are gone. Unlike Linda Brown, the boy won’t be able to attend the school that makes most sense. He will attend a school that Martinez determined is entitled to the boy’s money.
It is the boy’s money, afterall. In Colorado, education money attaches to children. With each child who enrolls, a public school gets more than $6,000 for the year.
Vouchers issue the money to parents. At that point, the money belongs to the parent and child. They are free to spend it at almost any accredited school, religious or otherwise. Public schools hate it because they want all the money.
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Opponents view this conversion as state funding of religious schools, claiming it violates “separation of church and state.” Colorado, like 35 other states, has an ugly old Blaine Amendment in the state constitution. Blaine amendments prohibit use of state funds at “sectarian” schools.
In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the United States Supreme Court upheld vouchers. The majority determined in the 2002 ruling that vouchers do not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Once state money is converted to a voucher and given to a child, it’s no longer the government’s. It belongs to the child, who is subject to the will of a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians have the right to choose whether their children are schooled in secular or religious settings.
Liberals and conservatives on the Supreme Court do not like Blaine laws, which are remnants of an era of state-imposed discrimination. A four-justice plurality in Mitchell v. Helms (2000) called Blaine a “doctrine born of bigotry.”
Freedom involves choice. Oppression opposes choice. It denies a child with autism a chance to attend the right school. Let’s hope this ignorant, backward ruling is soon overturned.