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Topic: Talking about school vouchers
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Talking about school vouchers
Posted: Jan 12, 1999 9:01 PM
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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

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)

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