Monday, November 28, 2005

School Vouchers Don't Fix Problem

Original Chimes Article Here

Under current Michigan laws, parents dissatisfied with their children’s current school can send their children to another school in that district or even to another school in a nearby district. This ensures that no children are stuck in failing schools. However, Proposal 1 will also divert public money to private schools, and 1 will force school districts with a low graduation rate to implement a voucher program. Other school districts would have the choice whether to use vouchers or not, but voters will be able to override the school district’s choice on a ballot. This means that in some districts money would be taken away from perfectly good public schools and used to fund private education instead.

Once a district decides to implement vouchers, students attending private schools will receive a voucher of about $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. This means (to use a local example) coming up with an additional $1800 to attend Grand Rapids Christian High School. This would be a way for the rich to have the government subsidize their children’s private education, but private schools would still be inaccessible for the poorest kids.

Critics charge that the voucher program hurts public schools by diverting funds to the private schools while voucher supporters 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. But there is nothing to stop legislatures from freezing the funding allowance at the 2000-01 level forever.

The main problem with Proposal 1 is that a voucher does not guarantee admission into private schools. Imagine 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 small number of additional applicants. The end result is that those who could already afford private school get a nice $3,200 from the government, while the poor are still stuck. Also, a private school has the right to choose its students and can discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Many private schools are not equipped to handle special needs children, and would be forced to turn them away. Other private schools admit students based on ability or discipline record while others are single sex schools.

Furthermore, 85 percent of private schools in Michigan are religiously connected. Therefore, using government money to support these schools is a violation of the separation between church and state. Different religions in America 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. Many Christian schools will not even admit non-Christians. Worse, Christian schools often teach philosophies like creationism or the sinfulness of homosexuality. These philosophies should not be supported with taxpayer funds.

Another argument used for vouchers is that schools should operate like businesses. If schools are failing, just toss a little free market capitalist competition their way and they will straighten up their act or be forced to close down. There is no evidence that competition improves schools. 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 teacher’s 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.

If a school does not improve, the students who do stay for one reason or another, be they non-Christians, disabled, homosexual, etc., are stuck while the ship goes down. Much better is the proposal that Al Gore made: shut down a failing school, and then reopen it immediately with a completely different program. Also, do we really want schools to have the same bottom line mentality that businesses do?

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 will be 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?

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