Why I Am Against School Vouchers

 If school vouchers become the norm across our land, our most at-risk students will be even more at risk as limited public funds are drained off and redirected to unregulated, non-standardized factories of learning. 

Texas Student StudyingAs a public school teacher in what I consider to be an excellent school district in the state of Texas, I suppose that one could say I have a biased view on the school voucher issue.  But I’ve had a first-hand opportunity to compare education in both private and public sectors.  While in the process of becoming certified to teach, I taught in two different private schools in this state.  Yes, it’s true, there are public schools in Texas to which I would not send a son or daughter, one of them is right here in the city where my wife and I presently live.  And, yes, it’s true, some private schools are superior to most public schools.  But these schools are very expensive and their focus is almost always “formation” first, education second.  This inequity, to my mind, is an intolerable situation, one that badly needs fixing in our state.  But I’m convinced that vouchers are not the way to go about it. 

Despite the arguments I hear about privatization ultimately infusing competition into the equation, thus stimulating innovation and motivation to produce superior educational services, and despite the claims of success for the limited programs that have been implemented in various communities, it takes little imagin- ation for me to see where a state-wide voucher program would lead.  Let’s be clear.  Economic theory and social goals are seldom on the same sides of the balance sheet. 

Most teachers and parents are opposed to private school tuition vouchers.  We know that public funds for vouchers will compete with dollars needed for general improvements in America’s public schools.  The National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates in every state agree.  Collectively, those who know education best all oppose alternatives that divert attention, energy, and resources from efforts to reduce class sizes, enhance teachers’ performance, and provide every student in this country with books, computers, and safe, orderly schools.  So, why are we even debating this issue?  Why do politicians, conservatives mostly, ignore the experts on education?  In a nutshell, it’s because they represent people who don’t want to pay the price that a quality education for every child in America would cost.

What follows are my arguments against school voucher programs:

First, America was founded on a concept of equity for its citizens, all of its citizens — equal justice under the law and equal oppor- tunity.  Although the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution makes it clear that education is primarily a function of states’ govern- ments, time after time, the Supreme Court of the land has ruled in favor of educational equity.  The Constitution of Texas includes these words, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”  This clearly establishes the priority for public rather than private education.  Therefore, student achievement in all social-economic groups ought to be the driving force behind any education reform initiative.

Americans want fair, consistent standards for students.  But where voucher programs are in place (Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida), a two-tiered system prevails that holds students in public schools to a different standard than those in private schools.

Second, what education in America really needs is help for the students, teachers, and schools that are struggling, not those who are doing well, those whose families would most benefit from implementation of voucher programs.  The failure rate on TAKS tests in Texas clearly shows that children born to families in lower socio-economic circumstances are those who are at greatest risk and are, therefore, those who are in greatest need of assistance.  For this reason, voucher programs are a terrible idea for solving America’s educational problems.  True equity means that every child should be able to attend a good school.  But voucher programs are not designed to help low-income children.

Milton Friedman himself, the founder of the voucher idea, dismissed the notion that vouchers can help low-income families.  He said, and I quote, “It is essential that no conditions be attached to the acceptance of vouchers that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to experiment.”  Accordingly, I believe that a voucher system in Texas or any other state would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.

Third, I believe in the separation of church and state.  Vouchers would violate this principle because most private schools are parochial/religious schools, about eighty-five percent of them actually.  So a state-wide voucher system would be a means for our more fundamental/Conservative citizens to circumvent Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practices and instruction.

Each year, according to the NEA, about $65 million dollars is spent by foundations and individuals to promote school voucher programs.  In election years, voucher advocates spend even more on ballot measures and in support of pro-voucher candidates.  In the words of political strategist, Grover Norquist, “We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money…”

Despite the efforts of school voucher proponents to make the debate about improving opportunities for low-income students and “school choice,” vouchers, in my opinion, remain an elitist strategy.  From Milton Friedman’s first proposals, through the tuition tax credit proposals of Ronald Reagan, through the voucher proposals on ballots in California, Colorado, Utah and elsewhere, privatization strategies are not about expanding opportunities for low-income children or about improving education in general.  Do not be fooled — they are about resisting meaningful, badly needed improve- ments, costly though they may be, to fix public education.

If school vouchers become the norm across our land, our most at-risk students will be even more at risk as limited public funds are drained off and redirected to unregulated, non-standardized factories of learning.  These factories will turn out a few well-trained, socially and economically elite young men and women who have been programmed not to think, but to behave and vote the way they are told.  The rest of our kids, sadly, will have been left behind despite the president’s “No Child Left Behind” law.  Democracy, already weakened in this country by corporate culture, private interests, and voter apathy, will become oligarchy.

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Published in: on October 7, 2007 at 1:34 pm  Comments (14)  

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  1. Well Kent, it seems you speak on another very important topic that we as a society should be aroused about. To be very honest, I just do not understand the voucher program OR why there should be one. Aren’t all school supposed to be about equipping our students? I do think that parents could put more pressure on our school system to make sure every effort is being made to educate all of our students. While it is true, not all students are cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or an Indian Chief but we could make sure that each student receives the basic tool for surviving in today’s society. I am truly baffled by our lack of interest in our educational system as well as other aspects of life in our country.

    Nancy Coleman

  2. Dear Kent,

    I am in agreement with you on the school voucher issue. I also wonder how happy those who push this agenda will be when Fundamentalist Islamics wish to open a school.

    However, I do wish you would quit picking on the schools in DeSoto. Yes they have problems, but to me the biggest problem is the lack of support from the community. DeSoto could be a case in point for your essay. IF all the people who pulled their kids out of DeSoto and moved to Midlothian or put them in private schools had STAYED AND PUT SOME EFFORT into the schools here, they would be what they were 15 years ago. All three of our sons graduated from DeSoto schools and they are well educated and successful. Our oldest went to UTD with kids from the Plano, Richardson and other well heeled districts and was constantly amazed at how well prepared he was for college work. I have spent some time up at the high school and yes it is not what it could be, but there are many people putting a big effort into trying.

    Take care,


  3. Wow–you’re a teacher???? In your thread starter you said, ‘Yes, it’s true, there are public schools in Texas to which I would not send a son or daughter, one of them is right here in the city where my wife and I presently live’. That is a run-on sentence. Your placement of the comma between the words, ‘daughter’, and, ‘one’, is improper English. A semicolon would be correct. A new sentence would be better. Your mastery of simple English composition is very, very poor. If you can’t master simple English, how can one take seriously your capacity for rational thought on the issue of school vouchers? Take some refresher courses, then try this again, please. I think that it would be better for everyone if you found a new profession.

  4. I’m sorry that you disapprove of my humble efforts to express myself, Steve. True enough, I’d have done better to make two sentences of the one on which you have chosen to comment. I suspect, however, that it’s not so much my grammar that bothers you as it is my beliefs and convictions.

  5. Bottom Line: We spend the more than any other country in the world on education and we rank among the worst for primary schooling. Vouchers would save money in the long run, get rid of bad/incompetent teachers, and let poor children have a chance at a quality education. Barack Obama will not be sending his children to a public school in DC like Jimmy Carter did. He is not going to wait for change, why should the children? When 37% of children at Washington High School in NYC graduate, how can anyone with conscience not let those children use vouchers?

  6. Thank you for your comment, Elinor.
    Obviously we disagree, but not on the fact that public education in the U.S. isn’t all it should be. The challenge, as I see it, isn’t on how to “pull the plug” on public education, thereby letting a greater number of OUR kids go down the drain, which is exactly what using public funds to subsidize private schools would do. The challenge is, I think, on how to improve public education without making the tough job of teaching even tougher. This challenge includes finding ways to attract and retain better teachers to failing public schools, moving the marginal teachers out into other lines of work, and energizing and enabling parents to motivate their kids to apply themselves. We must also stop deluding ourselves about everyone being created equal; one size does not fit all. But, if you want your kids in private schools, that is your choice. It is not your choice, however, to suspend your contributions to the public/greater good.

  7. Thank you for your civilized response.

    It is my perogative to not make contributions when children are not learning to read and write, but are being taught the religion known as “Secular Humanism.” Teach Secular Humanism and we all have to pay, but if I send my child to a parochial or private school have to pay more! If someone is going to teach my child their views then I definately want a voucher for my child. Public schooling does not mean sex education, etc. If we can agree on just education and not pushing a social agenda then we have a basis, otherwise, I want a voucher for my child.

    Honestly, the union does not want change, they want to pad their pensions. Why do the elite opt for Harvard instead of UMASS? I will continue to fight for vouchers. When Obama sends his daughters to public school, then I will consider one for my child.

    With all do respect, I do not believe you are objective. Sadly property taxes are the big funders for education. If you live in Reading, MA your child receives a world class education, live in Lawrence, MA your child is not so lucky. Even the mention of changing this structure scares the teacher’s union. Please for intellectual honesty’s sake admit that the teachers would not work through the “uncertainty” of taxation changes in order to improve schools. Proposition One failed in MA, because the teacher’s union used scare tactic in the form of advertisements paid for with member’s dues, also known as taxes. I know they did, because I live in MA and watched the ads. Also, there is no reason for tenure. None. I want accountability.

  8. Obama has spoken about greater accountability in schools, yes. But don’t look for his administration to push vouchers from the federal level; education is a state issue. So, if you want it in MA, my advice is that you direct your arguments to your fellow citizens there. I think, however, that you’re wasting you breath since vouchers would advantage only the few while disadvantaging the many.

    Given the security risks, I would not want to see the Obama girls in public schools just to make a statement in support of public education.

  9. I beg to differ with you. It’s not the people that send their children to Private schools that don’t want to pay for education. It’s the anti voucher people. I live in Cincinnati Ohio. The public schools here are nothing to brag about. My 3 children all went to Catholic schools. Which means I paid for mine and I am still paying for the rest. I’m not against paying for education for all children. That should be obvious! I just want to have a choice other then moving out of my home to a home in another school distric.
    Like I always say I pay for mine and I pay for yours.
    Frankly you should just say “thank you”!

  10. Okay, thank you.
    Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe that parents should have a choice in where their children receive their educations. Sadly, few are well enough off to have a choice. Though my own children are now grown and gone, I still contribute to educating others’ children and believe that it is altogether fitting and proper that I should do so. When my great granddaughter starts school, I will be helping her mother to send her to a private school as the school district where we live has much room for improvement. But we all benefit from having educated young people to one day take our places earning and paying taxes. I do not believe, however, that taxpayers should be asked to subsidize other parents’ choices outside the public system.

  11. I am against school vouchers because to throw a kid into a lottery drawing and only giving him/her gambleing odds to get an education is bullcrap. every student has a right to a decent school and an education, dont gamble with a childs education.
    i myself am a High school student at Clayton High School and here we give ALL KIDS a chance to learn and become better and more knoledge able people. Im a sophmore, and am trying to become a Vet Tech and Clayton High School of North Carolina is helping me to do that. No lottery drawing on my education.

  12. Good for you, Brittany. Good luck!

  13. I have really just begun to be interested in the school system/ voucher idea.. I am 49.. never had my own children (but have paid pleeeeeenty in property taxes.. thats an argument in and of itself) but my gf of 3 years son is about to start kindergarten and is bright but challenging with his ADD.. she definitively is against medicating which I would agree with for most ADD kids.. it teaches a crutch.. (I do understand their are extreme cases so no need to comment on add) I just checked our county budget and figured the cost per student.. about 13k.. but the private school is 6k.. hmmmmm .. does not seem to me that money is the issue in running a good school program.. it has become the burden. It seems the teaching programs and ideas of public education have become too scattered and with too much money and have lost a great amount of efficiency. She looked into the public school system and they gave said choose 6 options of these 150…and we ultimately choose where your child goes!.. So the bottom line is..if low economic persons had 13k to invest in a school choice I can not see how they are disadvantaged?…also the argument of public funds going to religious causes does not really hold.. if you wish to apply this standard then it must be applied to all funds for any government entitlement. Ex. Welfare/food stamps.. funds are not suppose to go to tobacco or alcohol… but the fact we provide any assistance means this leaves some funds in cash that can be used to do so. Anyway the constitutional idea of church and state is the separation OF.. not FROM.. and was established to protect religious rights.. not the govt. Vouchers spent on private education that has a religious basis is simply a freedom of religious choice made by the parents for their children Which is protected by the constitution, or they can choose a public system or a non religious school as she has decided to do.

  14. I don’t doubt for a minute that states’ public school systems are expensive per child compared to average costs per child in private/charter school systems. But quality/value for the average dollar spent is another matter. I have taught in both systems and, from my experience, you get what you pay for. Privatizing education would only lead to more social-economic inequity in this country. But then, that’s what Republicans seem to want.

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