Friday Freakout: A Witchy Scare Tactic Against School Choice

This week’s Friday Freakout is a blast from the past, bringing up an old, spooky scare tactic against school choice still used today (though with different masks). 

The freakout comes from 1993, in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Witch school could bring toil and trouble.” That story noted how a “coven of witches” said they would start a school using vouchers as their funding mechanism. Here’s how a union leader reacted:

“It’s exactly what could happen under the voucher system,” said California Teachers Association President Del Weber. “It’s not even limited to witches. You’re authorizing the use of public tax money to be used in private schools with no controls, no accountability.”

Four years later, the issue came up again in a PBS interview between host Ben Wattenberg and the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern:

MR. WATTENBERG: If you go into a voucher system, you will have—I mean, we’ve seen it here in Washington and elsewhere—you will have sort of some black nationalist schools, you will have ultra-orthodox Jewish schools, you will have schools where witchcraft is taught, and you know, the litany of horrors—

MR. STERN: Uh-oh, this is the parade of imaginary horribles. It’s used against any innovation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Why would a witchcraft school not be able to get a charter and a voucher?

Because the California proposition to enact statewide vouchers failed, we’ll never know if the coven actually would have started their own “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” What we do know, however, is this: Since 1993, 46 private school choice programs have been created. Last school year, more than 300,000 children used vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, or education savings accounts (ESAs) to pay for private school tuition or services. To our knowledge, we know of no incidences where those families used such programs to access a witchcraft-based education.

Today many employ the more subtle strategy of claiming there are “no controls, no accountability” in voucher-accepting private schools. But even that is untrue, as the Friedman Foundation showed in Public Rules on Private Schools, which analyzed the regulations on private schools that existed before 23 school choice programs in 12 states were created and after they were enacted:

Counts of Regs Figure

Moreover, just this week the Friedman Foundation released a compilation of regulations that must be met by those wishing to start private schools in states with school choice programs. There are more “controls” than opponents realize: In Vermont, for example, “Independent schools must annually conduct exercises in commemoration of the birth, life, and services of Abraham Lincoln on the last school day before February 12. 16 VSA §907.”