Monday, November 28, 2005


Original Chimes Article Here

Vouchers do not put all kids first

[ see also Vouchers allow choice in education ]

This year, Michigan voters will be confronted with a new proposal on their ballot. When you see the Kids First! Yes! Proposal, otherwise known as the voucher program, it is important that you vote against it.

Many people supporting the voucher program have nothing but good intentions. However, the issue at heart is not whether the poor should have an education equal to that of the rich -- that is a given. The issue is whether the vouchers will solve the inequality problem. The Kids First! Yes! proposal is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and its effects could potentially be devastating.

Kids First! Yes! will force school districts with a low graduation rate (less then 66 percent in four years) to implement a voucher program. Other school districts would have the choice whether to use vouchers or not, but voters could also override the school district’s choice on a ballot.

Once a district decides to implement vouchers, students attending private schools will receive a voucher of “one half the average per-pupil state and local revenue for operating purposes in public schools” (approximately $3,500). This money, instead of going to the local public school, will be used towards the student’s private education. However, the students and their families must come up with the rest of the tuition on their own. In many cases, this is a way for the rich to have the government subsidize their child’s private education, but private schools are still inaccessible for the poorest kids.

Critics charge that the voucher program hurts public schools by diverting funds to the private schools. Voucher supporters, in response, point to a clause that guarantees that although money will leave public schools, per-student funding will remain the same as the 2000-01 school year. Careful readers of the proposal will note that there is nothing to stop legislatures from freezing the funding allowance at the 2000-01 level forever.

However, the main problem with Kids First! Yes! is that a voucher does not guarantee admission into private schools. A private school will more than likely give preferential treatment to students already attending. Imagine, for example, a school district in which a public school and a private school exist. A voucher system is implemented, and children flock to the private school. However, the private school has limited facilities, and is only able to accept a limited number of additional applicants. The end result is that those who could already afford private school get a nice $3,500 from the government, while the poor are still stuck in the public school. Also, a private school by definition is not under government control. It has the right to choose its students and can discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, income, disability, sexual orientation, etc. In Milwaukee, where vouchers have been implemented, three single-sex high schools are now receiving government funds.

Furthermore, 85 percent of private schools in Michigan are religiously connected. Using government money to support these schools is a violation of the separation between church and state. Although many of us at Calvin came from Christian schools (myself included), it is important to think objectively about this and consider the different religions in America that would be forced to support Christian education. Students who are not Christian may be forced to choose between a Christian school and a public school that voters have given up on. Worse, many Christian schools teach philosophies such as creationism or the sinfulness of homosexuality. These philosophies should not be supported with taxpayer funds.

In addition, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that competition improves schools, voucher proponents argue that if the public schools are forced to improve because of private competition, they will. The assumption here is that the problem with public schools is that they have lazy, inefficient teachers and a bureaucracy that is more focused on protecting teachers jobs than improving education. However, if this were true, suburban schools would have just as much trouble as inner-city schools. The fact is that inner-city schools are doing significantly worse then suburban schools. The problems these schools face go beyond the school door. Issues such as poverty and single-parent households will not be solved by vouchers.

And what about the money? Readers keeping track of the math will realize that if private schools become publicly funded, tuition that was previously paid by individual families is now paid by tax dollars. The ACLU estimates this will cost taxpayers an additional $600 million to finance private schools. Instead of throwing up our hands and giving up on public education, why not use that money to improve it? With this money, inner-city schools could receive better facilities, smaller class sizes and a corresponding higher teacher-to-student ratio. These strategies, unlike the voucher system, have been proven to improve education.

The voucher system, masquerading under the guise of improving education and making it equal, will do neither. If Michigan voters do not realize the danger behind this proposal, public education could be in for quite a blow.

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