Lew Rockwell correctly points out that Vouchers [are] Another Name for Welfare. Aren't I against welfare? Of course. So why I am so happy about the voucher decision?
The reaction to the decision reveals a split between hardcore moralist libertarians, and more practical ones. Now, I would almost never place myself on the side of practicality, but in this instance I find myself there.
As Rockwell argues, there is no doubt that vouchers are welfare. Welfare is different from charity; welfare is involuntary on the part of the giver. Broadly, any time taxes are handed out in such a way as to effect redistribution, that's welfare. Libertarians are all against welfare, for the simple reason that taxation is wrong. So Rockwell is certainly within the libertarian mainstream to be against vouchers, at least at a theoretical level.
The split between libertarians comes in adapting ideology to the real world, a world that is already deeply immoral. In this case, we already have a tax system up and running, and it is already spending huge amounts on horrid public schools that are damaging millions of children. Furthermore, student slavery (aka truancy) laws are already in place and don't appear likely to change.
In this context, I see vouchers not as a new form of welfare, because the welfare of public schools is already in place. In the sense of requiring immoral taxation, vouchers are no more or less moral than public schools. (Though it is worth pointing out that by saving money, vouchers will at least damp down the need for taxes.) Vouchers are unrelated to evil truancy laws.
Rockwell worries about the influence of vouchers on religious schools. Won't they be tempted, and thereby fall under the regulation of the state? Well, yes, many will. But they are not forced into the system. So I don't see it as a problem. Certainly some schools will hold out for religious reasons. Some won't. Probably in toto, the number of "pure" schools will decline. But that just represents the fact that most people, even now, are not sending kids to religious schools for religious reasons; rather they send them there because the alternatives suck. In any case, all the kids now in religious schools do, currently, have the option to go to a public school and thereby accept welfare. Tempting them with a voucher is no different, except for the practical reason that vouchers are likely to buy better schooling. Morally the two are equivalent.
Where vouchers are important and different, is that they hold out the possibility of introducing competition into the education market. This will drastically increase quality over that of public schools. Now, it is true that vouchers will not introduce as much market discipline as a true free market in education would. But so what? Vouchers are clearly superior, practically, to public schools in at least some ways, and morally inferior in none.
So can libertarians advocate a change to public policy that is evil, but less evil than the current public policy? That is the question. I would say the answer is yes. For if we can only make changes that change to moral end-states, we will achieve nothing.
Meanwhile, I think that vouchers will achieve a very great deal. What? Well, there will be a terrific social struggle for a while, as the teacher's unions fight to keep customers in their failed system. But over time the benefits of competition will become increasingly clear to the public, and they will implement voucher systems for everyone, not just the poor. The middle classes will leave the public schools. The public schools will remain as a rump system, but it will only be used by those that nobody else wants - handicapped kids and discipline cases. Meanwhile, the education in the new voucher funded private schools will become top-notch.
Why? Competition. Like Rockwell, I worry about the effect that state bureaucrats will have, attaching strings to vouchers. Inevitably they will. But I also think that the effects will be much smaller than the effects that those same bureaucrats have on the public schools. The reason is simple: currently both the administrators and the educators are the same set of people. They have the same interests in bilking the public. Therefore, it is very hard for politicians to get cover to say "no". To say no is to be against "the children".
In a partly private system, the interests of the educators will be opposed to those of bureaucrats. Therefore, not only will there be fewer bought Democrats, there will be political cover for Republicans that want to stand up to the school bureaucrats. The private school teachers will be happy to testify that such-and-such a regulation is hurting their ability to educate, that the regulation needs to be clipped "for the children". This opens up the politics so that the politicians are free to do what is right (for the non bought ones). It's a very different political situation than currently obtains.
So, while the state will regulate the voucher schools somewhat, there will be much less regulation than currently; furthermore of the regulation that is there, much less of it will worthless or counterproductive.
Less regulation, and much more competition - this is a formula for vast improvement. That improvement itself will feed back into the system over time, as kids become adults and can vote. It is a joke, currently, amongst libertarians, that our enemies were educated in public schools. That joke holds truth, though, as hurtful jokes often do. I don't know of any statistics on it, but my impression is that people who were privately educated are much more ideological than those who got public educations. They are more likely to be libertarian, whether of the left or right. They are more likely to be sceptical of the government. And they are more likely to be interesting friends. Now imagine a nation full of such people. That is what ultimately frightens the left about vouchers; it's not just the teacher's unions. And that is why almost all libertarians are cackling with glee over the recent Supreme Court decision.