Some answers — Public Education

Republicans are widely perceived as being opposed to public tax-funded education and in favor of private or home schooling, as evidenced by the recurring “vouchers” theme. Is this true, and why? — Themon

Themon,

Public Education v. Vouchers

Dislike of standard public education is a mixed issue, not limited to Republicans. Notice that some of the strongest support for charter schools comes from poor urban minority Democrats. Why? Because they see more clearly than most that our public education system has failed. I do not think I need spend much time arguing that point. Everyone, including the teachers unions, seems to agree on that point. The question is what to do about it.

The Democratic Party, heavily influenced by the teachers unions, tend to argue that we just need to spend more money on education. In Colorado, Amendment 23 of the state constitution may eventually consume the entire state budget. We have also had more educational ballot questions and mill levies than I can count. Our ‘at risk’ schools get boatloads of money dumped upon them before being closed. Yet, all of this money has done little or no good whatsoever.

The only places where we see noticeable success stories are in charter and private schools where the administration is free from much state interference, free from union regulations, and free to innovate according to what works for their students and demographics. This makes sense. Charter and private schools are not guaranteed funding. Their pupils must show results as good as or superior to normal public schools in order to stay in business. This forces them to maintain good practices that are simply unimportant or impossible at normal public schools given the regulatory scheme and culture under which they operate. This is especially true of private schools, where parents must be convinced to spend money beyond the taxes must pay anyway in order to send their children to such institutions, effectively paying twice.

Competition breeds success in the market. Providing education is just one more service provided in the market. The state has simply created a monopoly and, like all monopolies, it provides stagnant, subpar service at a crushing price that always goes up but never provides better service. I never understand why people can so easily see the dangers of a monopoly and then turn around to passionately defend the public education system we suffer in this country.

While charters are a nice step in the direction of competition, educational vouchers would be a greater step still. They would still allow us to ensure that every child had funds to attend school. However, it would leave the choice and type of school to the parents. If they were willing to drive a long distance for a particular school they liked, that would be possible. If they thought their child would benefit from an all boys school, so be it. If they had a child gifted in the arts, and another gifted in the sciences, well, we would have schools which specialize in such areas. Similarly, there would be schools better suited to the needs of the disabled, just as students of exceptional intelligence would no longer be limited by the ‘average’ public school pupil.

Would the poor have the same opportunities as the rich? No. But they never do. The rich have always had the benefit of choice. If they want their children to attend Eaton, they can do so. Even in our current system of funding schools via property taxes, the rich benefit from high value areas such ads Cherry Creek. Vouchers, however, would beget many good schools competing for the children of middle class and poor families. The poor would certainly be no worse off than they are now. Currently, the middle classes and poor are stuck with the one-size-fits-all style of education the teachers unions see fit to provide, and I have already discussed the problems with unions at length. Vouchers give the poor and middle classes a chance to make choices of their own. And yes, if they chose to subsidize their vouchers with money of their own, would that not be more just than our current system where they must fund the public schools whether they use them or not? This would allow them to use their money in support of the school their children actually attend. True, the rest of us are still paying for the vouchers whether we have children or not. It is not a perfect free market. I, however, am willing to invest in children, whose market wealth under their parents may be far less than their own potential. And a world that values and extends potential is one I am willing to pay for—so long as I know it is being well used.

Vouchers would also put an end to the innumerable debates over state educational standards. The state could simply watch as the market drove standards up and costs down. It could then fairly accurately acknowledge a basic level of competence to accredit schools if it wanted to be involved at all.

The value of vouchers seems so obvious to me that I am utterly confused whenever I see someone erupt in outrage at the mere mention of a vouchers proposal. Does the state provide better education than private business? When has the state ever done anything better than private business? It is the monopoly argument again, but there is plenty of empirical evidence for those who want to look. And if the state is really worried, it can always set basic standards, which will be quickly exceeded by the market.

Moving right along to more interesting topics, I have also heard that private schools might teach religion. So what? The Supreme Court has already decided that the states can provide vouchers, even to religious schools, so long as the primary purpose is secular education. A bit of sectarian instruction is nothing more than the exercise of personal choice. While the U.S. Constitution forbids the state to establish or endorse any one religion or several, it also prevents the state from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Vouchers clearly do not violate either prohibition.

The only real objection I see to vouchers is that it destroys the power of the teachers unions. So far as I am concerned, this is a good thing—both for the quality of education and for teachers themselves. Again, see my answer regarding unions. Under a vouchers system, it is entirely possible that quality teachers could even be making higher wages, with far more freedom to innovate, than they enjoy in public schools today.

For all these reasons, most Republicans support vouchers. What I fail to understand is why anyone would not support the idea of vouchers. Whether their analysis makes use of empirical evidence, logical deduction, or both, the support for vouchers is clear and unequivocal.

Julian Dunraven

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