School Vouchers 

Monday, January 03, 2005

When I first heard about the concept of school vouchers, I was strongly in favor of the idea. I've always been a strong supporter of alternative education, and I've always had issues with the public school system's structure and style of teaching. However, there are many problems with the idea of school vouchers that must be addressed. The more thought I've put into it, the less I would support the idea of cutting a check to citizens that would allow them to choose any institution that can be created in anticipation of said checks. Let me explain, starting with the conservative arguments, then ending with my thoughts on addressing the challenges of public education.

A popular mantra in support of school vouchers is "we support school choice, allowing us to spend our own money as we please." The idea of school choice is one I support, and indeed one that I think everyone would support except those who are perfectly happy with the school offerings in their district. I should point out that American citizens already have the right to choose private education; they just can't do so with public money. There is a bit of deception in the idea of "spend our own money." The lie there is that my voucher would equal, dollar for dollar, the amount I pay in school taxes (or the amount the owner of the land you rent pays, should you be a renter). This is not true. In fact, unless I own some really valuable land, the voucher amount would have to be larger than my school tax investment (and way higher if I have more than one child). The cost of education per student is way higher than most property owners' tax investment. How can this be? Well, that's because even property owners who don't have children pay school taxes, including corporate property owners (who benefit from a minimum standard educated workforce and consumer base). An educated populace is in the public's best interest, so even those without children are willing to publicly pay for a social structure where most people have a minimum standard of knowledge and understanding. So, with a school voucher system, I'd be spending other people's money as well as my own. That means that I selfishly take away the voice of many investors, potentially removing any benefits those investors may receive from their tax investment (i.e. investment in an educated society). For example, schools that teach hatred of America could be created and paid for with public money. I would not want my tax investment funding schools like the ones in Saudi Arabia, would you? I'm sure most people without children wouldn't want their tax investment being spent that way either. The voucher system could be used that way: as a means to siphon public funds to finance private agendas that are in conflict with the public interest. So, if a voucher system were created, the result would be one or more of the following scenarios:

In short, the current thinking on vouchers shows a complete disrespect for the cost of education and the investment made by those who don't have children. Public funds should pay for public ventures carried out for the common good, not private agendas.

There are ways of providing more choice and higher quality in the public sector of education. One is to decentralize the school structure. Another is to make each school smaller (providing a choice of schools in each district). We could also form localized curriculum within common guidelines for the public good and with parent and teacher contributions (this would allow alternative schools to exist in areas where schools are not serving the students well). There is no reason to build one huge school for a particular district. If we chop them up, make them less top heavy, and give teachers and parents more freedom and creativity in teaching and learning styles, I think we'll see an amazing transformation in public education.

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