Gary North
June 30, 2011

The debate within the conservative movement over school vouchers keeps coming back. This reminds me of the sequels to the Frankenstein and Dracula movies in the 1930s and 1940s. No matter how many times the mob from the town destroyed a monster, it came back. The reason was clear: money. There were still ticket-buyers ready to see him return. Finally, it ended with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. When Bud and Lou got the screen rights, the franchises were over.

The latest revival of the school vouchers issue has come as a result of a Tea Party group in Pennsylvania, which is promoting vouchers for economically poor students. The idea is being challenged by libertarian Tea Party members. The New York Times describes the proposed law.

The bill would give vouchers to students in failing schools who are poor enough to qualify for the federal free lunch program. The amount would vary according to how much money the state contributes to each district and would be expanded to a limited number of additional students in the second and third years of the program. It would cost an estimated $50 million in the first year, $100 million in the second and $1 billion in the third.

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The Times recounts tales of splits on other issues within the Tea Party movement in other states. According to the article, the Tea Party is a negative political movement: united on what it opposes, but fractious on what should be done. I think this overestimates the Tea Party’s agreement on what it opposes.

That the movement could divide over school vouchers indicates that there is a recurring disagreement within the Right over what the civil government should fund and why, as well as what it should not fund and why not.

This debate has gone on for my all of adult life. It goes back to Hamilton and Jefferson in 1790: the debates over whether the U.S. government should assume the debts of the states, and whether the government should create a central bank, privately owned. Hamilton won the votes, but he did not win the arguments. He favored centralization. Jefferson did not, at least not in 1790. When he was President, it was a different matter. Think “export embargo” and “The Louisiana purchase.”

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