In my education reporting days — before I ascended to Godbeat heaven — I covered the Oklahoma City school system for The Oklahoman.
In a front-page Sunday story in 1999, I highlighted the opposing viewpoints in Oklahoma at that time:
In a nation that cherishes separation of church and state, talk of publicly funded religious schools stirs emotional debate.
“School vouchers are just another way that the religious right wing is attempting to destroy our school system,” said Everett Ernst, 54, a Democrat who lives in Oklahoma City.
Indeed, the 35,000-member Oklahoma Christian Coalition is pushing for vouchers.
But Kenneth Wood, the coalition’s executive director, said the only motive is fairness.
The way Wood sees it, every child already has a full-paid scholarship to receive an education.
“Right now, they can only use the scholarship at one designated school,” Wood said.
Later in that piece, I boiled down the debate this way:
When the legislative session starts Feb. 1, Oklahoma lawmakers will debate school-choice issues ranging from parent-run charter schools to open transfers between public school districts.
No school-choice issue, though, inflames the public — or the politicians — like vouchers do.
Savior for the poor or welfare for the rich? Needed competition for a government monopoly or a move to destroy public education?
God-given choice for all taxpayers or an unconstitutional mingling of public dollars and religious entities? So goes the debate.
Vouchers made a cameo appearance in a 2004 episode of “The West Wing,” when the White House lobbied the Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., to reject a voucher pilot program approved by Congress. But instead, the mayor insisted that he wanted the money, to the chagrin of President Bartlet:
You start handing out tuition vouchers for private school, you’re sending the message that it’s time to give up on public schools.
With all due respect, Mr. President, no one gets to talk to me about giving up on public schools. I assume I’m the only person in this room who actually went to public school.
And you couldn’t be a better advertisement for them.
Kids weren’t bringing guns to school in my day.
Republicans want to spend more on D.C. education, they should spend it on public schools.
We spend over $13,000 per student. That’s more than anywhere else in the country, and we don’t have a lot to show for it.
But if we start diverting money away from public schools, that’s the end of public education.
If you happened to catch that episode, some of the arguments in a front-page New York Times story today will sound familiar.
In fact, the lede reads almost as if the Times reporters and editors just landed on Earth from outer space and discovered this strange new phenomenon: