DC Voucher Debate Recap pt 1 September 29, 2009

DC Voucher Debate Recap pt 1

I just got back from the DC Young Democrats-sponsored debate on the DC Voucher program.  My side — opposing the program — lost by a single vote, but I really enjoyed myself and heard from various members of the audience that I did a great job.

We only had an introduction and conclusions, so I used my conclusion period as a rebuttal.  It’s usually my favorite part of debates, and I wasn’t going to miss it.  Mine went (from memory):

“I’m glad that Councilmember Thomas at least tried to address my arguments, but I was disappointed by the weak response.  Notice what he did: he said that he knows there is no religious pressure on children because he’s been to Saint Andrews and there wasn’t a problem.  He’s singling out one school, but how can he say that there’s no problem in the other schools?  If there were no pressure at all, why are 8% of students leaving the program citing uncomfortable religious pressure as their reason?  That even ignores the students who experience pressure but don’t leave.

Councilmember Thomas rightly said that education is an essential part of our democracy.  So is the Constitution.  Councilmember Thomas said that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I say we shouldn’t throw out the Constitution.  I’ll close with a quote from Justice Souter’s dissent in Zelman [who also quotes Agostini v Felton]:

“If there were an excuse for giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause, it would probably apply here. But there is no excuse. Constitutional limitations are placed on government to preserve constitutional values in hard cases, like these. ‘[C]onstitutional lines have to be drawn, and on one side of every one of them is an otherwise sympathetic case that provokes impatience with the Constitution and with the line. But constitutional lines are the price of constitutional government.'”

I’ll really miss Justice Souter.

I had a blast, and tomorrow I’ll try to post the full argument I made.

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  • Miko

    Well, you do need to balance that with the fact that the children in this program do better academically than their public school peers, report higher levels of satisfaction with their schools than those in DC public schools, and cost the government only about 1/3rd as much as public school students due to the greater efficiency of the private school programs. If there is a problem with the selection of private schools available from a secular perspective, the solution would seem to be making the program larger and more encompassing; not getting rid of it entirely.

    I was expecting you’d get blown totally out of the water, just because your position is so weak. If you managed to lose by only one vote, I’d say that that provides hope that the Democrats (or at least DC Young Democrats) may be willing to take secular issues more seriously in the future. This is an interesting issue since on the one hand protecting secular education options is important while on the other hand public schools are just so lousy that private alternatives are essential. I hope that we make progress in this area, once the leaders of the secular movement get beyond their current “let’s tear down the existing options and replace them with nothing” phase.

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