In “Simple Justice,” published today on the excellent Public Discourse website, Notre Dame’s Richard Garnett argues, persuasively to my mind, for public funding of schools outside the public school’s taxpayer-funded near-monopoly, a monopoly supported by the assumption that the public money we have for schooling are “public school resources, rather than public education resources.” This assumption is supported by an extreme (though politically mainstream) view of the separation of Church and state and practical arguments for the needs public schools being so great as to require denying any help to alternatives. As Garnett argues, the former (this is my paraphrase) offers to secular enterprises a constitutional blessing the Constitution doesn’t in fact give them and the latter is as a practical matter dubious, and in any case does not over-ride the requirements of justice.
The question, as he notes, becomes especially pointed or poignant as the school that once educated Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, Blessed Sacrament School in the Bronx, is closing. If it had not existed when she was a child, she would not be on the Supreme Court. As she told the New York Times:
“You know how important those eight years were? It’s symbolic of what it means for all our families, like my mother, who were dirt-poor. She watched what happened to my cousins in public school and worried if we went there, we might not get out. So she scrimped and saved. It was a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”