Friday, August 31, 2007

A Response To Three Anti-Voucher Facts

Let me respond to three arguments that are coming out of the anti-voucher camp that are factually based.

Vouchers are a subsidy.

True, vouchers would be money applied by the government to the private sector that benefits the public. Voucher supporters usually respond that this is a lot like what the government currently does with public education. There are differences, however. Public education is not only funded by the government, it is also administered by the government. Usually, fiscal conservatives oppose subsidies because it puts the government in the position to choose which private ventures will succeed or fail. In the case of education, however, the government is already doing this. Private schools are at a disadvantage to public schools, because of the government, in that they can fail if the money dries up. Public education funding does not fail. It may come short of expectations, but accounts remain stocked with taxpayer dollars.

Can you imagine a circumstance under which public education fails to get any funding?

Voucher money will go to religious schools

Voucher money will go to some non-secular schools as well as secular schools. This falls short of an endorsement of one religion over another by the government because it is parents that will choose where the dollars go, not the government. If vouchers pass in November, voucher opponents may choose to use the courts to argue this point. The courts will have to decide whether having parents as the intermediary between the government and private schools is enough to leave vouchers in place.

Vouchers will not create diversity

Let me tell you two other things that tend toward greater homogeneity. Where we live, and with whom we live. People of certain socio-economic classes tend to live in the same neighborhoods, and people generally choose to marry those of the same age, race, and status. The children born to us tend to be genetically, and ideologically like us. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, unless you can think of a reason that children should not look like their parents.

There is an interesting side-effect of all of this. Public school boundaries are generally drawn to enclose an area, as opposed to cherry-picking children from different areas. As a result public schools lack the very diversity that voucher opponents value so highly. Private schools, on the other hand, draw their students from larger geographical areas--an effect of their being fewer public, than private schools. Even middle, and lower, class students can attend private school if their families will make the requisite sacrifices (think of the big screen T.V. housed within a mobile home).


Jeremy said...

Vouchers are worse than just "a subsidy". They are a subsidy which will mainly benefit those who need the subsidy least. Eventually taxpayers will be paying more than $71 million per year just to support students in private schools who never would have enrolled in public schools in the first place. Why is it a good idea to subsidize the wealthy? Couldn’t this money be better spent?

Tuition money under the voucher plan is paid directly by the state to the school the parent chooses to give their voucher too. The idea that the parent is an intermediary is not accurate. Taxpayer dollars will be going directly from state coffers into the pockets of church owned and operated schools. This setup is clearly unconstitutional. Utahns will spend millions while the state defends itself from yet another lawsuit it will likely lose.

The last argument isn't one I subscribe to so I have no answer for it. I do think that most private schools cater to families that are wealthier than is typical and this plan will do nothing to change that. I don't particularly care though.

Tyler Farrer said...

"They are a subsidy which will mainly benefit those who need the subsidy least."

I disagree. The voucher program is gradational, meaning that the rich get a voucher of lesser value than the poor. If you don't want the rich to get any benefit, just say so.

"Tuition money under the voucher plan is paid directly by the state to the school the parent chooses to give their voucher too."

That matches my definition of an intermediary. One who makes the decision about where the money will be spent. The point is the parent chooses.

"I do think that most private schools cater to families that are wealthier"

If by 'cater' you mean value the education so that the rich will be most likely to afford it, then I agree. I don't think you mean that private schools discriminate against poor students enrolled in their program.

Jesse Harris said...

The Supreme Court has already ruled that a voucher used at a non-secular school does not constitute a violation of separation of church and state.

Davis Didjeridu said...

Compared to voucher programs in other states and areas, Utah's voucher program does favor the rich by the fact that it does not have an upper-income limit for families. I believe that all of the other voucher programs nationwide only allow those below a certain income level to access vouchers, forbidding those above it. When the poorest areas of Utah (the other 26 counties without private schools) get no vouchers, it means it is a subsidy mostly for the rich. Also, when the best private schools choose not to accept vouchers, the competition argument falters.
Jesse: Any citation for your court decision?

Jesse Harris said...

Davis: Here you go.

And I'd be totally amenable to a cap on income weighted for family size provided the program survives the vote in November.

Thomas said...

As an LDS member, it's not if students will learn better in one enviornment or another, it's a matter of my tax dollars going to one private religious school or another. I do not believe it was in the intentions of the framers of the constitution for public tax dollars go to the support of any religious dogma. Since education wasn't a part of the federal constitution, it was left to the states and in the Utah State Constitution there are a couple of articles talking about how state tax dollars are not to go to private religious schools. So it doesn't really matter how well they learn in or out of public or private schools, it has to do with the use of tax dollars to support one religion over another and I feel that's unconstituional at both the federal and state level therefore vouchers are wrong and should be voted down.

Jeremy said...

Thomas is absolutely right.

Utah's constitution says:

"No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment."

That seems like a clear black letter smack down to the current voucher program. Of course our legislators pass illegal laws all the time so obviously the state's constitution was easy for them to ignore.

007 said...

With regards to diversity, we really don't know how the use vouchers is going to affect the diversity in the private school system. We can guess, we can say we know, we can even look at other programs and see how it affected diversity. But we really won't know how it affects diversity at the private schools in Utah until we are several years down the road.

With regards to the subsidy issue, there seems to be very little thought given to the possibility that private schools will raise tuition and all that money that was earmarked to help the poor (and the rich) will end up just being passed on to the private schools as part of a tuition increase and won't help those it was intended to help at all.

Dave said...

Good post Tyler. My thoughts on the "subsidy" idea are as follows. It is not a subsidy. The private schools don't need subsidizing. They are self sufficient. This is no more a subsidy of private schools than food stamps are a government subsidy for private grocery stores. When a student chooses to leave a government school, there is still a chunk of money that is sent to the government school. The government school gets that money for doing nothing. So I ask this question. Who is getting the subsidy? The government school is.

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