Arguments Against Vouchers

I enjoyed reading Dixie Huefner’s opinion in the Salt Lake tribune recently. It was one of the more well-considered arguments against vouchers. Despite avoiding the emotionally charged shouting-match feeling that seem to dominate divisive issues like this, she still managed to skew the data to fit her position rather than presenting more accurate facts along with her legitimate personal opinion. (Yes, my support for vouchers does not cause me to think that everyone who opposes vouchers is a mindless zombie big-government liberal.) So here are some thoughts to temper her arguments.

Siphoning off tax dollars to support private school enrollment . . . also siphons off support for the public schools by parents who obviously care deeply about their children’s education.

This is perhaps one of the strongest legitimate arguments against vouchers. What is not mentioned is that the availability of vouchers gives parents who care deeply about their children’s education a lever to demand more accountability from public schools when the schools are not serving their children well.

The subsidy, from $ 500 to $ 3,000, mostly helps families who can afford to pay a significant portion of the private school tuition. Many of the best private schools cost between $ 10,000-15,000 a year. If vouchers are meant to help those who cannot afford private schools, they significantly limit the private school choices available to low- and many middle-income families.

Many of the best private schools – this ignores the fact that the $ 10,000 to $ 15,000 private schools make up a tiny fraction of the private schools in the state. There are many others which cost significantly less (some even less than $ 3000) and still offer a greater range of choices to parents than public schools do. The vouchers are not limited to being spent at the “best” (read “most expensive”) private schools. I would bet that 50% of private schools charge less than $5000 and if vouchers are implemented new charter schools are likely to spring up catering to this within-reach-of-the-vouchers price range. For those who argue that $ 5000 is still a lot of money I argue that:

    • A $2000 voucher brings the cost to $ 250 a month which is a good chunk, but if you are serious about your child’s education you’re likely to find a way (start by ditching your $ 60 cable bill).
    • Voucher opponents do not suggest raising the level of vouchers – they prefer to limit parental choice to the rich.

The provision allocating money to public schools to partially offset the loss of tax dollars for children receiving education vouchers expires after five years.

Why should public schools be perpetually paid for students that they never educate? This argument directly conflicts with the argument that vouchers cost too much. If the public schools were paid for more than five years the vouchers would cost more. Besides, the provision itself does not expire after five years, the offset money expires for individual students who remain outside the public school system for more than 5 years. In other words, the schools quit receiving money after parents have determined that their student really is doing better outside the public school system.

Other parents may determine that their child’s instructional needs have not been met by the school. They may have a child who is harassed or bullied by other children, or they may prefer smaller class sizes.

Certainly, private schools have a role in educating children who are not well-served by their public school. But the selection of another public school is also an option for parents who are seeking a more effective school environment for a particular child.

Students are allowed to move between schools within their districts. Their choice of schools are limited to other schools that are directed by the same people who are directing the schools they are trying to get away from. That sounds like Henry Ford telling people that they could have their car in any color they chose – so long as it was black.

Another concern about the voucher legislation is that it will encourage private schools that lack a track record and will not be as instructionally effective as the public schools. Public schools are accountable to the public and must report such matters as drop-out and attendance rates and achievement scores.

The voucher legislation will not provide vouchers for schools that do not have a track record. The track record in private schools is that if they do not meet the demands of parents they lose their students and have to close. Public schools are insulated from that kind of accountability – they just have to report their numbers but there is no risk to their bottom line.

[Public schools] must comply with due process protections and equal protection mandates of the U.S. and state constitutions.

This is a nice scare tactic, but what “due process protections and equal protection mandates” are private schools going to violate?

If all the energy in time and money spent on supporting private school vouchers went to promoting ongoing professional development of educators; [etc.] . . . we might have an education system that better meets the needs of all our children.

If all the energy in time and money spent on oppopsing private school vouchers (that’s much more than has been spent supporting them) we might have an education system that was better, but one size still does not meet the needs of all our children.

As I have said before, there are valid arguments against vouchers. Most of them are based on personal beliefs about the way our children should be educated and what is in the best interest of society. Let’s quit pretending that this is a fight between good an evil. It’s largely a matter of personal preference and social vision. “What do you think is best?” That’s the real question behind this legislative fight.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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