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Student vouchers invite government involvement

By Nancy Salvato
web posted January 24, 2005

Casey Lartigue, in Semantics and School Choice, says that "there is no such thing as a "voucher school." This would be correct because an education/school voucher is a tax funded certificate, given to parents to pay for the education of their children at any private or public school that accept students with vouchers. There are inherent problems associated with the meaning of voucher, which can be gleaned just from the juxtaposition of the words tax funded and private. Obviously taxes imply government money and private means independently run. In public education and in private education, the two ideas cannot be reconciled.

There are plenty of arguments for and against supporting vouchers. But when all the facts are closely scrutinized, the best way to assure a wide variety of unlimited options rather than "controlled choice" in education is to leave the government out of it. Vouchers, by their very nature, invite government regulation and the implementation of their agendas; which serves to stifle the singular nature and overall appeal of a private institution.

In Reasons Home Schoolers Should Avoid Government Vouchers, the legal staff of the National Center for Home Education came up with some very valid reasons to discourage the widespread usage of vouchers. If vouchers are taken to the next level and extended to all students, and not just a finite amount of low income attendees of dysfunctional schools, it would necessitate raising taxes to provide for the millions of school aged children who already benefit from independent schooling. "Edd Doerr, Executive Director of Americans for Religious Liberty, predicts that vouchers would cost Americans 33 billion dollars annually in increased taxes."

As it currently stands, parents who have chosen to send their children to independent institutions are paying tuition twice; once through taxes and once to cover the costs of an alternative education. With vouchers, these same parents could conceivably end up paying more. The private institution they've chosen may decide to maintain its independence and not accept vouchers with their inherent strings; obligations to comply with government mandates. Enrollment in these instances may decrease because families may pursue alternative education at voucher accepting institutions. Tuition may increase for remaining students due to declining enrollment.

Jonathan Rauch, in an open letter to Bill Gates entitled, A Liberal Plot to Destroy Private Schools gives us an idea of what the future might bring if vouchers catch on. He imagines that the following dialogue amongst those who pushed for vouchers might sound something like this, "What were we thinking when we crusaded to hook private schools on public money?" And he believes that those amongst the teachers unions, which he believes "by then may have extended many of today's anticompetitive public school rules to the private realm", might say, "Boy, were we ever lucky we lost that fight. Now all schools are public."

In the Pew Forum's School Vouchers Settled Questions, Continuing Disputes (PDF file) it is pointed out that there are likely to be a number of legal challenges to vouchers based on state constitutions, which argue against the inclusion of religious schools in voucher programs. Some state constitutional provisions say that government funds may not be used for any private school. Some provisions are more specific and exclude aid only to secular religious schools. At any rate, it's clear that this is a point of contention that won't be going away anytime soon.

Many would agree that the public school system is in trouble due to the schools being "over centralized, bureaucratic behemoths", an apt description penned by David Boaz and R. Morris Barrett in, What Would A School Voucher Buy? The Real Cost Of Private Schools: Why the Schools Don't Work. Proof of their assessment lays in the fact that in 1987 there were 3,300 employees in the central and district offices of the Chicago public school system yet only 36 administrators overseeing the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago schools. There are many more such examples.

Special interest groups, such as the NEA dominate the public school system, and district schools no longer responsive to the specific interests of the communities in which they exist. Even former AFT President Al Shanker agreed that, "there are few incentives for innovation and productivity."

But how can more parents afford alternative means to an education? Parents should be able to have Universal Tuition Tax Credit to be used against their property or income taxes; deducting a portion of the cost of an independent education. By allowing parents this means, no public funding is diverted from the public school system nor will private schools become beholden to public school administration or ideas.

Government schools would be forced to compete for students; bringing innovation and efficiency. There would be free market competition in education and schools would arise to meet new demands. Schools, and the teachers employed in them, would have financial incentive to meet the demands of excellence. They could charge and benefit from compensation befitting a school of high caliber. No poor teacher would survive in a market situation that expects them to carry their weight.

School Vouchers and Universal Tuition Tax Credits are both intended to make alternative education more accessible for those who lack the financial means to take advantage of it. But, vouchers invite government involvement which by its very nature controls choice. However, tax credits are not publicly funded. This money has never seen government hands. In addition, they are available to anyone who might benefit. Scholarships can be set up so that individuals and corporations can donate to those who don't pay property taxes or whose income tax is negligible. We wouldn't want the government telling us which stores to shop, or what foods to buy. Why do we allow the government to decide what schools we will attend and what bill of goods they will be selling?

Nancy Salvato is the Director of Online Communications at Americans for Limited Government. She is an experienced educator and an independent contractor with Prism Educational Consulting. She serves as Educational Liaison for Illinois' 23rd Senatorial District. She works nationally and locally furthering the cause of Civic Education. Her writing is widely published on the internet and occasionally in print venues such as the Washington Times. Her opinions have been heard on select radio programs across the nation. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005


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