The last hundred years have witnessed a great struggle between state control and more libertarian forms of social ordering. Now that socialism—the hard-edged way of state control—has been largely discredited, a softer edged way—government control over primary and secondary education—is perhaps the most important fault line in this battle.
Thus, it is very welcome news that in Hart v. State the North Carolina Supreme Court last week upheld a school voucher program. The plan would provide $4,200 to parents with income at 133 percent or below the poverty line to send their children to a private school of their choice. The case turned on the state rather than the federal constitution, because happily the Supreme Court has already upheld school vouchers against an Establishment Clause challenge.
I am not an expert in North Carolina constitutional law, but one argument in particular interested me. The dissenters in the case contended that the voucher program did not serve only public purposes, because the private schools did not have to comply with government standards to assure that students “would participate and compete in society” by receiving a sound education. The legislation did require that schools receiving vouchers require attendance, meet certain health and safety standards, and provide periodic standardized testing. But these requirements were not enough for the dissent.
What was remarkable in my view was that the dissenters dismissed the capacity of parental choice to promote education accountability and indeed excellence.