News - People for the American Way; Fall, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 5
Talking about vouchers over the bean dip
So, you're at a dinner party and the topic turns to school vouchers. The guest across the table believes public schools would get a lot better if only they had some competition from the private sector. Doesn't that seem reasonable?
Well, actually, no. In the spirit of robust social debate, PFAW Foundation offers some 'talking points' for your next voucher argument:
. Every child counts -- not just a few. 89 percent of American children go to public schools, and the vast majority of kids will always to to public schools. Public policy should focus on the many - not the few who would receive vouchers.
. Whose choice? Some people seem to believe vouchers would entitle students to the school of their choice. In most cases, that's false. Private schools retain the right to select and reject whomever they please.
. Fly-by-night schools. Experience with voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland demonstrated that when established private schools were not willing to accept voucher students, the children ended up in new schools with no track record, established purely to serve the programs. Several such schools in Milwaukee later collapsed under fraud and mismanagement.
. Just where would all the children go? A national voucher program would be unrealistic because there simply isn't the capacity to accommodate a substantial proportion of public school students. In January 1998, the National Association of Independent Schools said "most of our schools are at or near full enrollment." Few private or religious schools have said they would expand to handle an influx.
. High costs. A voucher is unlikely to cover many of the hidden costs associated with private school, such as transportation or books and uniforms. In Cleveland, this oversight forced the state to pay millions for taxis to take students to their private schools.
. Accountability. Wouldn't it be foolish to give away millions in tax dollars without asking private schools to open their results to public scrutiny, so we can see how our money's spent? But that common-sense condition is intolerable to most private and parochial schools, which insist on remaining unaccountable to the public.
. Skimming. Private schools that do take voucher students are likely to take not only the best-performing students, but also the children from the most advantaged backgrounds, leaving behind public schools depleted of talent and funds -- in may cases, resegregating them.
. Competition. The notion that "free-market pressures" will improve public schools is flawed because schools aren't able to respond like true free-market players. A school denied adequate resources cannot simply increase them to match a private-sector rival, as in other kinds of markets -- it does not control its budget. And in their zeal to improve the appearance of quality, many schools could be compelled to cut corners and inflate grades. Finally, a true free market would force losing players to go under, but a public school that was losing to "competition" would still have to stay afloat to teach its remianing students.
. Are you calling America chicken? Where public scholls have problems, our challenge as a nation is to fix them -- not throw our hands up and run away from the problem.
***************************************** * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: email@example.com