Recently, articles like this have reminded me about the issues surrounding school vouchers. In summary, now that certain legal issues surrounding vouchers have resolved, there are a handful of programs and very little in the way of measurable results thus far. As much as I respect the underlying concepts, I am not a supporter of vouchers. I say this as someone who would likely benefit from a voucher program.
I think the widely used Cato Institute figures showing that a voucher of $3000 would cover tuition at most private schools, and that the average tuition at such schools is $3116 are flawed. First, these figures include church-run schools. A church which sponsors schools normally subsidizes education at such facilities. Thus, they are effectively providing education below cost. Second, it is not known whether the Cato Institute figures include schools of less than 20 students. Such schools tend to fall into 2 categories: one room schools with one or two teachers (perhaps run out of the instructor’s home), and organizations intended to provide support services and legal status to home-schooled students. Finally, there is no indication of whether all the schools included in this average were fully accredited. Failing to take this distinction into account is like comparing an average person’s driving to that of a professional truck driver. I would be much more interested in seeing average tuition figures which exclude these three classes of school.
This, and my own personal research, lead me to believe that any voucher program will actually fall far short of paying for a quality, secular private school. Please note that I have specified a quality, secular school both for reasons above, and to completely sidestep issues of philosophy, religious education and the First Amendment. Furthermore, such a voucher does nothing to defray added incidental costs such as transportation, uniforms, and activity fees. In short, saying that vouchers are for the benefit of the lower and middle class, who cannot otherwise afford private schools, is ludicrous.
However, there is an even more important issue concerning vouchers. Government — particularly at the Federal level — has a tendency to grant funds only when specific conditions are met. For example, the Federal government got states to pass laws mandating seat-belt use, a 21 year old drinking age, and minimum blood alcohol of .08% for drunk driving by threatening to take away highway funds. Libraries can have money for internet connections from the Feds, but only if they install content filters. Schools can have Federal funds for sex education, but only if they teach an “abstinence only” program. As the old saying goes, “He who pays the piper picks the tune.” Allowing government to fund private schools is one step closer to allowing them to mandate what and how students are taught. Since the vast majority of parents who have chosen private schools did so because they disagreed with the philosophy or methods of what they consider “failed” public schools, this is unacceptable.