Monday, April 30, 2007

Vouchers and School Choice

As a future teacher and as a parent of two kids, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. It's also an assignment for my advanced composition class at Nevada State College. Hopefully it will get good reviews here and with my teacher.

School choice and vouchers are two new ways that have been developed to help inner city families better educate their children, who are often stuck with poor schools and few opportunities to transfer them to better schools.

There are differences between school choice and vouchers. School choice allows parents to transfer their child from a bad school to a good school. As Richard Whitmire pointed out in Washington Monthly’s March 2004 issue, this is being done in St. Louis, where parents can have their kids attend a good public school, (yes they actually exist) and the state pays the school a fee for accepting inner city students. This program, started in 1983 and renewed in 1999, has been popular and successful. Not only do students who transfer score higher on standardized tests; their graduation rates are twice that of their inner city counterparts.

Vouchers are similar in that parents are allowed to pull their child from a failing public school and place them in one of their choice. Instead of going to another public school, the government pays the tuition for the student to attend private school. Vouchers are aimed at students that are at, or near, the poverty level. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of vouchers, more states are seriously considering these programs.

Teacher’s unions, liberal legislators and public school officials don’t like vouchers and will do anything in their power to defeat them. One argument is the program violates the separation clause of the Constitution because many private schools are religious in nature. They’ll argue that schools will lose money because fewer kids are enrolled in them. Another objection is that private schools aren’t bound by No Child Left Behind standards and don’t have to produce the same test results that public schools do. Because we don’t know what the test scores are we don’t know how good a job those schools are doing educating kids they’ll argue.

Although these sound reasonable, they have flaws that need exposing. First, private schools most often do a better job of educating students than public ones. Why? Because if a private school is not producing educated children then nobody is going to send their children there. Unlike public schools where the amount of money they get is fairly certain from year to year, a private school has to insure that their customers are getting good value for their money or the parents will go elsewhere. The free market forces them to do their best or they’ll be forced to shut their doors.

Secondly, the government is required to be neutral in regards to religion. The government cannot favor nor discriminate against religion. If vouchers could only be used at secular private schools then they violate the constitution and the program would either be forced to allow religious schools in, or cease operation. This has already happened as some state supreme courts has ruled voucher programs illegal because they accept religious schools which violates the state constitution. The Supreme Court has let one ruling stand, but there will be more.

What we’re doing now is flawed to say the least. Education is the best way to lift people out of poverty, yet we place another hurdle in front of them by forcing them to attend schools that don’t educate students for life in the real world. Parents in poverty can’t afford to send their kids to private schools and school choice is no good if there are no good schools to transfer to or not enough spaces for all the kids who want a better education. Vouchers can and do fill that void.