Polly Williams, a black Democrat in Wisconsin, has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal, Reason, and other neoconservative organs for her school choice legislation. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court has approved it: underclass public school students can now get more welfare, in this case free tuition, at “nonsectarian” private schools. Neoconservative choicers hail the decision and the program, which may be expanded to include religious schools, but no real conservative should support it. Choice will destroy the independence—the essence—of private schools.

In almost all public schools today, parents fit into one of two categories: superfluous or “troublemaker.” They have no control or even influence over what their children are taught, even if it contradicts their religious or other deeply held beliefs. Parents can complain about the teaching of promiscuity in and out of the classroom, about condom handouts, rampant schoolyard theft, sex in the bathrooms, leftist economics, anti-Western history, made-up multiculturalism, and dumbed-down textbooks, but it will have no effect except to single out them and their kids as troublemakers.

Private schools offer an escape from all this, and a real education besides. But for how long? Schools that accept even one vouchered student will find their curriculums, admissions, academic standards. and disciplinary codes subject to detailed regulation from the Department of Education and the various civil rights agencies. Frank R. Kemerer, an education law professor at the University of North Texas, points out in Education Week that private schools have long had to fight for their independence. The Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters in 1925 ruled that bureaucrats can “inspect, supervise, and examine” private schools and “their teachers and pupils” to make sure that “studies plainly essential to good citizenship” are taught and that teachings “inimical to the public welfare” are banned. A decade ago, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Pierce when it upheld Nebraska’s shutdown of a Christian school and jailing of its principal, who was also pastor of the local church. His crime? He had used parents as teachers. They were smart, motivated, and hardworking, but they didn’t have state licenses. Religious freedom, said the court, is irrelevant when it comes to state regulation of education, one of the most inherently religious of all activities.

All this has happened without government funding. How bad will it get with vouchers? One precedent, says Kemerer, is HDD’s voucher program. As soon as a landlord accepts a tenant with a rent voucher, he is subject to an incredible array of federal regulations telling him to whom he can rent, at what price, for how long, under what conditions, how much upkeep he must do regardless of tenant vandalism, and when and if he can cancel the lease. Economics professor Estelle James of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, has studied school vouchers all over the world and found the same pattern. Whether in Holland, France, Belgium, or any other country she examined, private schools that accepted vouchers invariably became semipublic.

In the United States, school choice will mean that private schools can’t offer distinctive curriculums. Christian and Jewish schools will have to water down their doctrinal teachings and even eliminate classroom prayer and religious symbols, exactly as did the Catholic colleges that earlier took federal pottage. All-girl schools may have to include boys, and certainly all-boy schools will have to include girls. Religious schools will have to accept militant atheists. Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1991 makes it illegal for companies to use hiring or promotion tests that have a “disparate” impact on minorities— meaning those that don’t yield a racially proportionate result—private schools will be accused of discrimination unless their admissions, scholarship, and honors programs are ethnically equalized. Even discipline will have to be administered on a quota basis. Hillsdale College has found that it cannot accept even one federally financed student without being subjected to the full panoply of federal social engineering. It would be no different with primary and secondary schools.

There are other reasons to oppose school choice. Despite claims of competition among public schools, it can’t create—any more than Gorbachev could—a free market in a socialized industry. By allowing vouchers to be used at the few decent public schools, it can make them like all the rest. And it will cost a bundle: President Bush has $500 million in his new budget “to support this growing movement.” The neoconservatives— statists like Bill Bennett, Francis Fukuyama, and Ben Wattenberg—advocate centralized education because they want to construct the “first universal nation.” That means destroying the reactionary opposition: thus the drive to deracinate our private schools.

As American education has become more centralized, it has also become more left-wing, more dim-witted, and more antiparent. Only one small area of freedom remains: the private school, now under attack through “choice.” Polly Williams is a member of Milwaukee’s Black Militia, an armed group which last year threatened death to whites if it didn’t get $600 million. Do we need to know anything else about choice and those who advocate it?