On Religious Liberty, the Bathroom Wars, and Educational Choice

 

shutterstock_112057673Every now and then, Thomas Sowell writes a column titled “Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene” where he offers up gems like “Stupid people can cause problems, but it usually takes brilliant people to create a real catastrophe.”

I’m no Thomas Sowell, but here are a few of my own (much less pithy or clever) random thoughts the passing education policy scene:

Montana Department of Revenue: Religious Families Need Not Apply

Last October, the Montana Department of Revenue interpreted the state’s constitution to prohibit it from issuing tax-credit scholarships to students attending religious schools. Fortunately, a judge ordered them to reverse course after the heroes at the Institute for Justice — which deserves its title as the “nation’s pre-eminent courtroom defender of school choice” — filed suit. The injunction is only temporary, pending the outcome of the case, but the MT-DOR bureaucrats just filed an appeal. Can’t let parents get a taste of choice! Why, they might choose something else!

Sadly, they’re far from the only ones working to block educational choice …

The Left v. Educational Choice

Lawsuits against two of the most ambitious educational choice policies are each one step closer to resolution. In Florida, the teachers’ union (joined by the NAACP and others) is challenging the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which serves nearly 70,000 low-income students. A lower court tossed out the challenge based on standing but the union appealed. Earlier this week, an appeals court heard oral arguments in the case, where the union’s attorney struggled to explain how the choice law harms anyone:

Lynn Hearn, arguing for the groups challenging the program, said students receiving scholarships are spread unevenly across the state. The program affects public schools “by drawing students out of the system and sending the funding away,” she said, and schools don’t always reap savings from having fewer children to educate.

“You’ll have a few from this school and a few from that school, and so the school is left with exactly the same expenses,” she said.

Judge Lori Rowe, part of a three-judge panel that heard the case, was skeptical.

“You haven’t alleged that any individual student is suffering,” she said to Hearn. “You haven’t alleged that per-student funding has been reduced. You haven’t even alleged that the [state] education budget has been reduced.”

Meanwhile, the Nevada Supreme Court is preparing to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state’s education savings account law. Last month, the attorney general’s office “formally nudged” a judge to rule on a separate challenge by the ACLU that was filed back in August. There’s a decent chance that the state supreme court will merge the two cases.

Why is the Left so determined to keep families from exercising choice? In short, it’s about control. And that leads me to…

The Bathroom Wars

It’s, frankly, incredible that with all the serious problems this country is facing, the president thinks it’s a priority to issue a decree forcing public schools to let children pick which bathroom – or locker room – they want to use. Yes, that’s right, the feds have ordered public schools to give biological males access to the girls’ locker room, where teenage girls undress and shower. (My witty friend Greg Forster has dubbed it “Commode Core.”) The White House press secretary, the Orwellianly named Josh Earnest, claims that the new decree is only “guidance” not a “threat,” but if schools don’t follow the “guidance” then the Obama administration promises to cut their federal funding.

Late last year, the feds intervened when a public school in Illinois required a transgender student who is biologically male to “change and shower separately from her teammates and classmates.” Rather than force the student to use the boys’ locker room, the school came to a compromise that attempted to respect the privacy of all the students involved. Nevertheless, the feds filed suit, demanding the transgender student receive “unfettered access” to the girls’ locker room, even though some teenage girls expressed discomfort undressing and showering with someone who is anatomically male. Eventually, the school caved. Outraged parents have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the school’s agreement with the feds, and this week the ACLU announced it was intervening to support the feds.

It’s enough to make David French of National Review call for conservatives to declare independence from public schools. Frankly, it’s long overdue.

As Neal McCluskey (my wise and benevolent boss at the Cato Institute) often observes, the zero-sum nature of political control over schooling forces citizens into social conflicts like the Bathroom Wars. A much less divisive alternative would be (you guessed it!) a system of educational choice in which parents could select the schools that have their preferred bathroom policy:

As important, if not more so, is that allowing private entities to choose their own policies is consistent with individual liberty, including freedom of association and religion, while it is much better suited to enabling people with competing values to peacefully co-exist. There is no zero-sum contest: Those who want an open bathroom policy could choose schools in which all the staff and families also embraced it, while those feeling more comfortable with bathrooms and locker rooms restricted by biological sex could go to schools with like-minded people.

Perhaps the best examples of educational choice helping to bring peace and balance rights have been in many European countries, where religious conflicts in schools abated as governments decided to fund choices of Protestant, Catholic, nonsectarian, or other institutions. Getting to the place of greater peace requires something difficult – accepting that all people should be able to live as they want as long as they do not force themselves on others, and even if we do not like the choices they make – but living and letting live is the foundation of a free society.

But forget bathrooms–schools might want to consider separating the genders in the classroom as well…

New Study: Single-Sex Schooling Works

A new study by Prof. C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University finds that single-sex schooling improves student outcomes:

The results show that single-sex education can improve both boys’ and girls’ outcomes. Three years after being assigned to a single-sex secondary school, both boys and girls have higher scores on standardized tests. Five years later, they are more likely to take and pass advanced courses. In the long run, both boys and girls are more likely to have completed secondary school and to have earned the credential required to continue to tertiary education. Importantly, boys are also less likely to have been arrested. Taken as a whole, the results suggest that being in the single-sex cohorts improved test scores and also improved longer-run non test score outcomes such as advanced course taking, high school completion and engaging in criminal activity.

As AEI’s Michael Strain highlighted, “the benefits of single-sex instruction are free to the taxpayer — all you have to do is sort children into the appropriate classrooms or schools.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that, evidence be damned, the ACLU opposes this as well.

A version of this blog post originally appeared at The Jay P. Greene Blog.

There are 21 comments.

  1. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Jason Bedrick: [Quoting Neal McCluskey] Getting to the place of greater peace requires something difficult – accepting that all people should be able to live as they want as long as they do not force themselves on others, and even if we do not like the choices they make – but living and letting live is the foundation of a free society.

    But people might make the wrong choices! ;)

    • #1
    • May 16, 2016, at 4:43 AM PDT
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  2. Paul Erickson Member

    Jason Bedrick: Lynn Hearn, arguing for the groups challenging the program, said students receiving scholarships are spread unevenly across the state. The program affects public schools “by drawing students out of the system and sending the funding away,” she said, and schools don’t always reap savings from having fewer children to educate.

    I love when liberals make comments like this. As if the funding just springs from some magical source and it is the bureaucrats’ job to parse it out.

    • #2
    • May 16, 2016, at 4:46 AM PDT
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  3. Scott Wilmot Member

    Jason Bedrick: Why is the Left so determined to keep families from exercising choice? In short, it’s about control.

    Not just control, but success – one can see how well the Left has indoctrinated the youth by the success of Bernie Sanders. These people are controlling us to ruin.

    We sacrificed to put our children through Catholic schools and I will do all I can to help my grandchildren stay out of the public school system.

    Very interesting post by the way – thank you.

    • #3
    • May 16, 2016, at 5:08 AM PDT
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  4. Jason Bedrick Member
    Jason Bedrick Post author

    Paul Erickson: I love when liberals make comments like this. As if the funding just springs from some magical source and it is the bureaucrats’ job to parse it out.

    Yes, and there’s the implicit assumption that the district schools are owed that money, which assumes that they have some claim on the children to whom that money is attached. Nonsense!

    • #4
    • May 16, 2016, at 5:10 AM PDT
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  5. Paul Erickson Member

    Jason Bedrick: The results show that single-sex education can improve both boys’ and girls’ outcomes.

    I have mixed feelings on this. I met my wife at a co-educational public high school in 1974. Definitely improved my outcome. (You’ll have to ask her if she agrees.)

    • #5
    • May 16, 2016, at 5:18 AM PDT
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  6. Mate De Inactive

    Will we ever get a chance for school choice as long as the teachers unions hold so much power? I think breaking the unions is step one.

    • #6
    • May 16, 2016, at 5:55 AM PDT
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  7. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    Mate De:Will we ever get a chance for school choice as long as the teachers unions hold so much power? I think breaking the unions is step one.

    Scott Walker has shown in part how that can be done, but it’s going to be a very long and protracted battle. As long as the unions equate themselves to individual teachers, they can claim to be on the side of angels. Truly, the unions are about power and keeping it.

    Of course School Choice harms their power, because not only will parents take their kids out of union schools (as happens just about everywhere school choice programs thrive), but teachers will opt out of union jobs as well, preferring the freedom to do the job they love rather than work under thumb of several bureaucracies.

    • #7
    • May 16, 2016, at 6:42 AM PDT
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  8. Mate De Inactive

    C. U. Douglas:

    Mate De:Will we ever get a chance for school choice as long as the teachers unions hold so much power? I think breaking the unions is step one.

    Scott Walker has shown in part how that can be done, but it’s going to be a very long and protracted battle. As long as the unions equate themselves to individual teachers, they can claim to be on the side of angels. Truly, the unions are about power and keeping it.

    Of course School Choice harms their power, because not only will parents take their kids out of union schools (as happens just about everywhere school choice programs thrive), but teachers will opt out of union jobs as well, preferring the freedom to do the job they love rather than work under thumb of several bureaucracies.

    Yes, but so many teachers are lured by the higher salaries and benefits to work at public schools rather than private or charter schools, and many, many parents still think that public schools (in the right town) are the way to go. A mindset needs to be changed, but the unions must be broken in the way they did in Wisconsin but with so many blue states run by unions I am not sure that will be possible. Wisconsin was a bit of an anomaly

    • #8
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:01 AM PDT
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  9. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I firmly believe that the next step will be mass conversions of school districts to charters. Indeed, many larger schools will do well if they house two or more charters within the same walls. Competing charters would be superb for enhancing the quality of public schooling.

    There is another massive resource opportunity here as well: those huge buildings are not in use for many hours a day. A charter should have the freedom to rent the facility to any other organization/business during non-school hours. The renter could be bonded/insured for cleaning and other potential compatibility hassles. But think of how many small businesses could flourish if they had very cheap facilities available the “other” 16-18 hours of a day.

    • #9
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:33 AM PDT
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  10. Seawriter Member

    Paul Erickson:

    I have mixed feelings on this. I met my wife at a co-educational public high school in 1974. Definitely improved my outcome. (You’ll have to ask her if she agrees.)

    I met my wife the same way and virtually the same year. However, the public schools of 1974 are as different from the public schools of 2016 as the aircraft of 1914 were from the aircraft of 1956.

    The change in public schools has not been positive. It is more like the change in attitudes towards slavery in the United States in 1792 (when everyone – including Southerners assumed it would gradually go away) and the attitudes in 1838 (by which time it had become the South’s defining institution).

    Seawriter

    • #10
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:33 AM PDT
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  11. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    iWe:I firmly believe that the next step will be mass conversions of school districts to charters. Indeed, many larger schools will do well if they house two or more charters within the same walls. Competing charters would be superb for enhancing the quality of public schooling.

    There is another massive resource opportunity here as well: those huge buildings are not in use for many hours a day. A charter should have the freedom to rent the facility to any other organization/business during non-school hours. The renter could be bonded/insured for cleaning and other potential compatibility hassles. But think of how many small businesses could flourish if they had very cheap facilities available the “other” 16-18 hours of a day.

    The only weakness of the present charter system is that it’s still directly funded by tax dollars, meaning that meddlesome letters like the president’s latest still apply. In fact I can see this as an attack on charter schools as one of the attractions of them is that they were supposedly free of this nonsense.

    I worked a year in a small private school in Oregon in a town which had what could be called a glut of private schools at the time. We worked on what was sometimes a shoestring budget, but there was never a shortage of teachers. I’m less worried about finding good teachers for private schools.

    • #11
    • May 16, 2016, at 7:53 AM PDT
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  12. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    C. U. Douglas: We worked on what was sometimes a shoestring budget, but there was never a shortage of teachers. I’m less worried about finding good teachers for private schools.

    There are a lot of people who would teach if the bureaucratic hurdles were gone.

    The only regular paycheck I have ever received in my life was in teaching a class at a local private high school. It was a blast. And if I traveled less, I would love to do it again. I am quite sure that many other capable adults would enjoy the occasional teaching gig, if it was easy to come in and out of the job.

    • #12
    • May 16, 2016, at 8:17 AM PDT
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  13. PsychLynne Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Jason Bedrick: [Quoting Neal McCluskey] Getting to the place of greater peace requires something difficult – accepting that all people should be able to live as they want as long as they do not force themselves on others, and even if we do not like the choices they make – but living and letting live is the foundation of a free society.

    But people might make the wrong choices! ;)

    Progressive educators can’t have peace if anyone, anywhere makes a wrong choice. For them, the synonym for wrong is “disagreement.”

    • #13
    • May 16, 2016, at 8:18 AM PDT
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  14. paulebe Coolidge

    I have never been as happy with our decision, many years ago, to homeschool our kids. Parents are going to have to decide, do I continue to outsource the education of their children to agents of the state that are and will be actively working against virtually everything they stand for.

    The current public education establishment is unsustainable and will collapse in on itself, if for no other reason than the economics will never work out. Spending more doesn’t make it better. Enacting policies that drive rational-thinking adults to make decisions in the best interest of their precious children further defunds the madness.

    Connect this with the inevitable collapse of higher education and we may actually see the political pendulum swing back to the center, if for no other reason than they no longer have the ability to brainwash the nations kids for a majority of their lives until their 24.

    The crack-up will be epic, that much is certain.

    • #14
    • May 16, 2016, at 11:01 AM PDT
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  15. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    My wife and I agree that homeschooling would be ideal, but as we are we cannot meet that ideal due to health reasons. Our only out of the public school system is the possibility of private school, but that is very expensive for us. That may be a sacrifice we will have to take but I think it would be the best one.

    Failing that we will need to offset the poisonous effect of public school with a firm foundation of virtue, which I hope I’m up to that task. Modern Progressivism is hell bent on attacking virtue with everything it has in its arsenal.

    • #15
    • May 16, 2016, at 11:05 AM PDT
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  16. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Seawriter: … It is more like the change in attitudes towards slavery in the United States in 1792 (when everyone – including Southerners assumed it would gradually go away) and the attitudes in 1838 (by which time it had become the South’s defining institution). Seawriter

    Do you know of a good book describing that change in attitude, Seawriter?

    • #16
    • May 16, 2016, at 12:44 PM PDT
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  17. Nick Stuart Inactive

    Public education, as a whole is an absolutely irredeemable, irremediable train wreck. Period. The educational-bureaucratic complex will fight like Leonidas at Thermopylae to keep their rice bowl intact. Leftists will never give up the opportunity to propagandize children for 13 years. Most parents will never give up 13 years of “free” babysitting. Whether a student receives an education is entirely beside the point.

    Homeschooling or entirely privately funded schooling are the only alternatives, as long as the culture will allow it.

    • #17
    • May 16, 2016, at 12:57 PM PDT
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  18. genferei Member

    As I always say on these topics: abolish compulsory schooling, and do away with government definitions of ‘education’ (and, therefore, ‘school’, ‘teacher’ etc.).

    • #18
    • May 17, 2016, at 2:28 AM PDT
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  19. Brian Clendinen Member

    Jason Bedrick:shutterstock_112057673In short, it’s about control. And that leads me to…

    Exactly, liberal understand if they can take control away from the parents they can change the course of the nation thru the kids of even conservative parents can be brainwashed into being good liberals a lot more easily unless the parents are good at fighting back. It is all about who control what the next generation is taught which determines the direction our nation will go. Parents their is no greater battle for the future of this nation than the values your kids are being taught. You want to change the culture, make sure your kids have the right values.

    • #19
    • May 17, 2016, at 11:53 AM PDT
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  20. Brian Clendinen Member

    C. U. Douglas:My wife and I agree that homeschooling would be ideal, but as we are we cannot meet that ideal due to health reasons. Our only out of the public school system is the possibility of private school, but that is very expensive for us. That may be a sacrifice we will have to take but I think it would be the best one.

    Failing that we will need to offset the poisonous effect of public school with a firm foundation of virtue, which I hope I’m up to that task. Modern Progressivism is hell bent on attacking virtue with everything it has in its arsenal.

    Have you looked at some of the hybrid schools, that are a combination private/homeschooling. That is kids meet like 3 days a week and due the other half of their school work at home(there are all sorts of variants on this)? It is more than traditional homeschooling but a lot cheaper than private school. Its basically like you are paying a tutor who teaches small classes but you still are the main teacher. Not sure if that would work better with your health issues.

    • #20
    • May 17, 2016, at 11:57 AM PDT
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  21. Brian Clendinen Member

    Mate De:Will we ever get a chance for school choice as long as the teachers unions hold so much power? I think breaking the unions is step one.

    No it is about breaking up judicial tyranny. It has been judges that have been overruling the laws of the land when it comes to school choice. Florida had the first school Voucher program in the nation and our supreme court ruled it unconstitutional. Over and over again the success of school choice has been because the government wins the battle in the courtroom not at the ballot box or in the classroom.

    • #21
    • May 17, 2016, at 12:01 PM PDT
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