Voucher opponents: uninformed or untruthful?


Writing from New Orleans, Louisiana

“The AFT supports parents’ right to send their children to private or religious schools but opposes the use of public funds to do so. The main reason for this opposition is because public funding of private or religious education transfers precious tax dollars from public schools …”

This is a typical criticism of school vouchers, here expressed by one of the nation’s teachers unions. But what about the reasoning behind this claim?

A common plan for vouchers calls for the school that loses a student to a voucher school to also lose the funding that accompanied that child. So it appears that the voucher critics may be correct — if the amount lost due to the voucher was equal to per-pupil spending.

But most voucher plans call for the voucher to be just a small fraction of per-pupil spending. Most vouchers are for less than $5,000. With USD 259, the Wichita public school district, spending some $12,000 per student per year, a $5,000 voucher is only 42% of per-pupil spending.

Because the voucher is for less than per-pupil spending, the school that loses the student is actually better off, financially, than before. As long as the amount the school loses to a voucher is less than per-pupil spending, the school has more money to spend, on a per-pupil basis.

We have to wonder why the public school bureaucracy and newspaper editorial writers do not realize this. Perhaps their opposition to vouchers isn’t solely financial. There is evidence from Utah is that this is true. This has been reported in the Deseret Morning News: “When a student leaves a public school [in Utah], the legislation requires the state to continue to supply that public school’s district the portion of the per-pupil funding that is over and above the state-wide average voucher amount, and to continue doing so for a period of five years following the transfer or until the student was scheduled to graduate.”

Even this provision does not satisfy the opponents of vouchers. It also doesn’t do much to provide competition to the public schools, which is one of the positive things vouchers will do. The article realized this: “Unfortunately, this will minimize the voucher program’s competitive effect that might otherwise spur innovation in the public school system.”

The advocates of the public school monopoly say that education isn’t about money, that it’s all about the children. But when it comes time to oppose vouchers (even though the argument is false), or to sue the legislature for more funding, or to raise property taxes, or to float the idea of a bond issue, well, it turns out that it is all about money.

In a recent Wichita Eagle article, Wichita school superintendent Winston Brooks promoted accountability. But if he truly believes in being held accountable, he would advocate allowing competition through school choice funded by vouchers and/or tax credits. It’s one thing to say you want to be held accountable. But it is another thing to actually be held accountable by parents who would have the credible threat of taking their children somewhere else.

In Kansas, most parents don’t have a credible threat of sending their children to a non-public school. Incremental reforms have been tried for years, and more such proposals appear every year. It is time, however, for radical change. School choice implemented through vouchers or tax credits (a better idea) would allow the magic of entrepreneurial competition — instead of the present amalgam of education bureaucrats, self-serving politicians, paid lobbyists, and teachers unions — to supply schools that parents really want.


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