School Vouchers - Why the heck not?

Date 2007/2/9 3:13:08 | Topic: The Editor's Column

School vouchers are a hot topic today, with many voucher proponents spending the day lobbying the Texas Legislature in favor of the programs.

What are vouchers? Well, the idea, also sometimes called "School Choice" is fairly simple, and the intention is to get children a better education. The typical proposal is something like this:

  • A parent is dissatisfied with a public school's performance in educating their child. Sometimes, the school itself is rated poorly on performance on standardized tests.
  • That parent applies for and receives a government grant of a set amount of money per student, to be used to pay for tuition at a private or parochial school. Typically this amount is somewhat close to the average amount spent per student in the public schools
  • Since the government pretty much sucks at getting anything right, the private school education is much better. Plus, parents get the added benefit of knowing that their children are being brainwashed indoctrinated in whatever philosophy, politics, or religious teachings the parent approves of, but is too lazy to teach at home.

When I first started hearing about voucher programs years ago, I thought they were a good idea. That was in my conservative days. Now I realize that although the intentions are good, and we all want to have good educational achievement for ALL Texas students, the voucher idea is fundamentally flawed, and could lead to the eventual unintended destruction of our public school systems.

The idea of "school choice" as they like to call it, is based on the fallacy that the free-market will prove out the best ideas and provide the best education due to competitive market forces. This fallacy is a common thread among those that believe government is inherently inefficient and can't do anything right. The problem is that the free market is not a very good provider of what economists call "Public goods". I stongly believe that education has become a necessary public good in our society. Every citizen is entitled to a basic education, currently K-12. This is most efficiently provided though the commonwealth of each school district.

"So why," you might ask, "do you think the government can do this more efficiently and effectively?" Well, there are many reasons, and this is ground that has been covered by many others much better than I can, but let me just list a couple of reasons:

  • Private non-parochial schools must make a profit. Public schools do not. This means money that could be educating is instead enriching shareholders. Pressures to keep earnings up will inevitably cause cost-cutting which will manifest itself in the classroom.
  • Public schools by law must educate everyone, regardless of mental or physical disabilities. They've developed procedures and methods through their years of experience to deal with these students so that their needs are met educationally and socially. Private schools are typically not equipped. In larger "markets", private schools might emerge for special needs children, but suburban and rural communities would be left out. These children cost more to educate, so there is an economic disincentive for private schools to accept them.
  • Free markets fluctuate. What's hot one year is not the next. Businesses fail and go bankrupt all the time. Public schools have a fairly predictable and steady load of students to educate, and thus are able to plan and build facilities efficiently over the long term. If public schools had to compete with private schools, administrators might find themselves with under-utilized facilities that they are still paying for. Or if a private school went under, or suddenly became unpopular, public schools may simply not have enough space.

I really wish I could do this topic more justice, because we'll be hearing more about it from well-intentioned, but wrong-thinking people in the coming months. Luckily, there are several other good resources I can point you to:

Let everyone know what YOU think about Vouchers or "School Choice". Use the Comments!

This article comes from The Lewisville Texan Journal

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