The idea behind school vouchers is fairly simple – the state writes you a check for what it would otherwise spend on educating your child in a public school, and you apply that amount toward the cost of a private school tuition. At first, vouchers seem like a great idea. No child should ever be required to languish in a failing school, and all parents should have the freedom to send their child to whatever school they desire. I absolutely agree with these two ideas. Nevertheless, there are 5 reasons why vouchers are a bad idea.
1. The First Five Minutes. If we created a voucher program, we’d have to grandfather the 30,000 kids already in private schools in Kansas. At $4,200 per student, the first five minutes of a voucher program would cost our state $126 million. If we can’t pay for the kids we have in schools now, we certainly can’t afford to adopt 30,000 more. If the goal is to rescue kids in failing public schools, it should not begin with a $126 million check to the private schools.
2. Sorry, We’re Closed? The KC Star recently reported that most private schools in Kansas already have a waiting list. So while vouchers would immediately benefit the kids inside the private school system, there is little hope for those outside the private school system. Even if private schools would eventually expand to welcome all students, a voucher program requires the subsidization of the entire private school system before the first needy kid gets help. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, the solution cannot logically begin with footing the bill for private schools.
3. I Thought You Hated Socialism? I hear a lot of conservatives complain about how unfair it is that the government gives welfare checks to those who don’t want to pay for their food, housing, or health care. They argue that the poor should simply work harder to escape poverty instead of relying on government handouts. During the overhaul of the welfare system during the Clinton administration, welfare as we knew it was transformed into a temporary assistance program with a 5 year lifetime limit and a requirement that the recipient find a paying job of 30-55 hours per week within two years or forfeit any further assistance. This was a pretty good idea. I’m sure voucher proponents who supported the new welfare restrictions would readily support similar restrictions for vouchers: 1) income limits of no more than the federal poverty level of $10,000 per year, 2) demonstrate ongoing attempts to find success within a failing school for two or more years, and 3) the school receiving the vouchers would be required to accept new students and comply with federal assessment restrictions. If the goal is to rescue kids from failing public schools, then voucher supporters ought to be comfortable living with the same restrictions that they thought were appropriate for other government assistance programs.
4. Accountability and Oversight. It has become trendy for voucher supporters to point to the lack of oversight or accountability as a primary cause of failure in public schools. The brainchild of the pro-accountability movement is No Child Left Behind, which I wholeheartedly support. I support it so much that I think no school receiving government funding of any sort ought to be exempt, including private schools. After all, who knows what those private school teachers are teaching kids these days? Consequently. any school receiving a voucher should be required to comply with the same federal standards of accountability that apply to public schools. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, then the government should protect its investment in private schools by demanding results.
5. Parental Backlash. There are two reasons why parents invest in private education: to avoid the brutality of public schools and to embrace the morality of private schools. Vouchers blur the lines of both reasons, and will likely threaten the order of things. Parents pay good money to keep their child away from corruption, and when the school starts importing it by the busload from the other side of town, parents will probably object. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, it will have to be with the blessing of conservative parents who are comfortable with “urban influences” (a tongue-in-check term) invading their contrary way of life.
Voucher programs are an oustanding way to rescue kids trapped in failing public schools. If that’s who benefits, then I support them. But I suspect that the pro-voucher movement is populated by politically active parents who use the false idol of the disadvantaged kid as a ruse to punish the public schools and pay for the private education of their own children. Just a hunch.