Competition, not inspection by government agencies or compliance with myriad rules and regulations, is the surest guarantor of quality in education. Legislators should ensure that a voucher or tax credit program does not lead to the imposition of new regulations on private schools.
At present, private schools enjoy greater autonomy than do public schools, but this is a privilege to be preserved. State constitutions typically allow for heavy regulation of private secular schools regardless of whether those schools receive any government funding. Vouchers and tax credits do not per se open any doors for government regulators that are not already open to them. Religiously affiliated schools are protected by the First Amendment against federal or state regulations that interfere with the freedom of religion regardless of whether or not they participate in a voucher or tax credit program.
School choice legislation should be written to ensure that private schools retain their authority over curriculum, textbook selection, and student admissions, retention, and discipline. Private schools should continue to be exempt from statutes that guarantee tenure and contract renewal and that restrict transfers and demotions. Private schools also should continue to enjoy protection against the assertion of special constitutional rights by school employees, for example, to belong or not to belong to unions and professional associations (Lieberman 1986; Valente 1985).
Parental choice advocates may concede to the public’s concerns over the accountability of private schools that accept public dollars (Moe 2001). They can preempt some criticism by placing in their proposed legislation language prohibiting participating schools from teaching the hatred or expounding the inferiority of any person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, or gender, or discriminating in their admissions policies on the basis of race, color, or national origin (Bast 2002b).
Voucher proponents may also agree to require participating schools to administer standardized achievement tests of each school’s choosing and make test results available publicly and on request. Because most private schools already administer such tests, this is unlikely to be a burdensome regulation, and it addresses the common complaint that some parents are unable to monitor the performance of the schools their children attend.
In a competitive marketplace, good schools would have sufficient motivation to publish and even advertise performance-based information. Several independent tests of student achievement are recognized in most states. The government need only enforce the test mandate, and perhaps only for a limited time.
Four strategies are available to legislators seeking to reduce the risk of a voucher or tax credit program increasing regulations on private schools (Walberg and Bast 2003, 260-264). The first is to include language establishing that the autonomy of private schools is in the public interest and that all regulations affecting private schools are “frozen” a