The voucher ‘blend’ of Gov. Haslam; private schools, but public policy

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to bring free market ideas into public schools with a voucher plan.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has taken up the cause of vouchers as a way to soften the failings of government-run schools among poor people, whose home life is often dysfunctional and whose free district public school is often an academic and moral dead-end.

Gov. Haslam today is expected to tell more about his plan to help these disaffected clients in a budget speech before the general assembly in Nashville.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican who last year sponsored a voucher bill, called his measure an “opportunity scholarship” and would let state school clients living under an official poverty line attend private and Christian schools.

The idea of vouchers is most strongly backed by the political party with the most truthful rhetoric about free markets. Republicans, whose talk about liberty and economic freedom is generally expansive and favorable, propose school vouchers as a halfway measure.

They seem to obtain the benefits of the free market for the state client base, but would damage the moral coherence and self-determination of the free market educational provider. Republicans, in other words, would spread the regulatory authority into a new part of the state economy — and the local economy.

Vouchers a way to ease explosive pressure within system

Bureaucratically based businesses do not prosper and cannot serve the consumer. This claim is perhaps disputed by people of good intention who desire the state to be a major charity. But the remedy is offered for what is a genuine failure by the factory school. The plan: allow into the artificial marketplace of public schooling “choice” and competition. Voucher programs threaten the union-run school systems with defection of funding to nonpublic providers. Unhappy parents can pull away from an assigned school in their districts, and send their children, with a stream of tax dollars flowing after them, to private schools.

But, an annoying question: By what means will tax money be accounted?

This is a natural question that backers of the factory school system ask — the unions, Democrats. It’s not a bad line of inquiry. If tax dollars are spent, how can the expenditure be shown satisfactory to the state, which ostensibly represents the people of Tennessee and the taxpayers? If money is granted to a private school, must not its recipients be under lawful authority of the state agencies in charge of schools? Must not there be regulation?

Free market schools gain

A reformation in U.S. Christianity in the 1970s brought a healthy reaction to the pervasiveness of state control and subsidy. (The word subsidy in French is subvention. In French, vent is wind, and sub is under, from the Latin. So, subvention might be translated as “a wind underneath that uplifts,” as attorney Wendell O’Reilly of the Swiss-American chamber of commerce chapter and I noted in a chat at lunch Friday). A subsidy is a wind underneath any project that gives it momentum and lift, and speed. Christianity, thanks to the work of reformed writers such as R.J. Rushdoony and economist and Bible scholar Gary North in the 1970s and 1980s, discerned the religious component in the state breathy uplift into the economy, and from their writing the Christian school movement blossomed.

A fact of life remains: Where subsidy proceeds, control follows.

That is a reasonable proposition. Parties jealous of the use of tax dollars are right to insist on controls and authority over recipients of the free dough. Those who take that view might stand in a wide perspective of opinion, from the Tennessee Education Association (the union) to the libertarian watchdogs at Beacon Center in Nashville.

But might not Christianity take advantage of state subsidies? Use them to promote the good news of Jesus Christ as savior of sinners? Few people probably are so naive as to raise such a question in genuine hope that tax dollars will be available to promote the work of the church, who gets her funding through the tithe.

Private secular schools, Christian schools and homeschools are part of a far superior economy and share in a loftier set of principles than state-run schooling. To create a movement of cash to a new constituency seems like a dangerous prospect that is difficult to see in our day of friendly totalitarianism and maternal forms of statism. A Christian school or a homeschool should be paid by Christians giving over and above the tithe, which is due the faithful church.

“Christian education is an urgently necessary aspect of Christ’s Kingdom and its work,” notes R.J. Rushdoony. “Children and their schooling are the key to a people’s future. To make a humanistic state the controlling force in education is a tragic mistake.”

Christianity and its law of sacrifice

In discussing the question of vouchers, Dr. Rushdoony confronts cries of lamentation from those who say they are overtaxed already, and don’t want to pay doubly for Christian education. In the old covenant, he points out, the sacrificial system demanded only certain animals be offered as sacrifices to God. Unlike other clean animals such as deer or fish, these were ones that had been husbanded, “those domestic animals could be used which cost a man something in labor or in money. The Lord does not make things easy for us. If we are going to establish a Christian society, we are going to pay for it in more ways than one. A responsible people cannot be created without cost.”

Today Christ is our sacrifice, and there is a cost for those serving Him. In the old Hebrew republic, the sacrifices were of animals cost human labor, care and feed. They were animals that were a form of capital, and were worth something in their being given up to God in that forward-looking bloody sacrifice.

Tennessee government is stuck with a constitutional system of free public schools, and its people are inured to the presence of their red-brick outposts. The local public school seems unstoppable for now. For most people, having to make private educational decisions in a free market is difficult to conceive. People will not accept the end of these schools, even though they create much despair, because they are “free.”


Andy Sher, “Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pushing school vouchers,” Jan. 15, 2013

R.J. Rushdoony, “Vouchers, Freedom and Slavery,” Faith for All of Life, July/August 2012, Chalcedon Foundation, Vallecito, Calif.

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