Over the past few years there has been tension between private school parents, who feel that they are paying too much in property taxes and getting very little in return, and public school parents, who feel that their children are being underserved by an unaccountable school system with a decreasing budget.

One prominent example of this tension has been in the East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County, New York. In this school district, which includes towns such as Monsey and New Square, the majority of the population, which is largely Jewish, sends its children to private schools, while the minority of the population, which is largely black and Hispanic, sends its children to public schools. After years of paying significant amounts into the system and not receiving much in return, the majority of voters in this school district voted to reduce funding towards the public school system.

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School choice, the practice of enabling parents to send their children to schools of their choice, is an alternative that can benefit both public school parents and private school parents. For the parents who currently send their children to private schools, many of whom are low income themselves, school choice would mean a major reduction in the burden of having to pay tuition.  For the parents who currently send their children to public school, school choice would give them the opportunity to send their children to a better school (either public, private, or charter) and would also have the effect of causing the public schools to compete with other schools rather than having a monopoly over the students who live in their area.

While the most effective method for implementing school choice would be through a voucher system, a system where parents are given a voucher that can be used to send their children to schools of their choice, this is unfortunately not an option in New York since the New York State constitution contains a Blaine amendment. A Blaine amendment, named after the state senator who originally introduced it in Maine, forbids direct taxpayer aid to schools with religious affiliation. While it was originally introduced as a result of anti-Catholic bigotry, it has been maintained as a result of special interest lobbying by the teachers’ unions.

In states without a Blaine amendment, such as New Jersey, a voucher system can be implemented and enable all parents, regardless of income level, to send their children to a school that they feel would serve their children best. Education vouchers have been upheld as constitutional at the federal level by the Supreme Court in the 2002 case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.

However, there is an alternative method of implementing school choice for states that have a Blaine amendment. Florida has a program known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program that provides an income tax credit to corporations who donate to Scholarship-Funding Organizations. The Scholarship-Funding Organizations provide scholarships to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch or who are in foster care. This program can serve as a model for other states in this situation. When a similar program in New Hampshire was challenged at the state level in the August 2014 case Duncan v. State of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional and held that it did not violate their state’s Blaine amendment.

A growing number of parents all over the United States is deciding to send its children to private schools, not just because of the low quality of many public schools, but also because of the values that are promoted there. Many parents don’t want to place their children in public school systems that spout leftist propaganda, where History classes are unquestioningly supportive of labor unions (ignoring anti-democratic practices like card check) and where English classes require students to read communist literature like Native Son. There would be significant benefit for parents to have the option to send their children to schools that better reflect their values without having to devote such a large portion of their income.

In the near term, the New York State Legislature can very easily pass an Education Investment Tax Credit. In the long term, repealing the Blaine amendment can pave the way for a full voucher system. We need to be supporting policies that benefit the children, not policies that benefit special interest groups like the teachers’ unions. 

Leshin is legislative assistant to Rep. Steve StockmanStephen (Steve) Ernest StockmanFormer congressman sentenced to 10 years in prison for campaign finance scheme Rising expectations could change North Korea forever When did we stop thinking big? Save the International Space Station MORE (R-Texas) The views expressed herein are his own.