Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Endgame: No Public Schools

No one should delude themselves: LA Times columnist Jonah Goldberg tells us the end game for voucher supporters. His column, entitled “Do away with public schools,” also has the subtitle: “Government is inept at running schools.” I ask those in favor of vouchers: is that true in Utah? If you say yes, then you are doing two things. First, you accept that over three decades of Republican dominance in Utah government has run our schools into the ground. Second, you also deny the numerous accolades that Utah’s public schools have achieved. From today’s headlines about high graduation rates, to West High’s continual rankings in Newsweek’s best High schools ratings (despite mainly serving what Goldberg calls “needy students”), Utah schools appear to be fairly well run and produce students ready to work or study at a higher level. Furthermore, while I believe they could do a better job if they were given more funding, and I believe that would be easier with more Democrats in office, it appears the Utah public education system has allowed some Republicans to learn the value of wisely investing in thus public good.

The rest Goldberg’s column is the same old, tired, fallacious arguments against public education and for vouchers that have no basis in fact. It also ignores that all 50 states have, in their constitutions, some sort of requirement for free, public education available to every child in their state. It is obvious that some accept his arguments if not his conclusions, such as Tyler at Davis County Watch, and Ethan at SLC Spin. I initially wanted to reply to Tyler’s latest post on the subject on his blog, but I had little more to say and wanted to say it better than my original comment.

I must start with an angry, loud, all-caps statement. HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY THAT THERE IS NO PROOF THAT PRIVATE SCHOOLS OR VOUCHERS ACTUALLY IMPROVE EDUCATION! Please provide one source, one study, one report that backs up your claim. I have repeatedly noted studies from the US Dept. of Education, the General Accounting Office, and other peer-reviewed studies showing there is NO proof that private schools work or that vouchers help. Why? Because there is no way to compare private schools that don't teach the same things, don't give the same tests, and don't take the same students that public schools are required to do.

Now I am not saying that private schools do not work at all or for some children or that they should be abolished either. I believe in school choice, and that parents should choose where their children go to school. However, when that choice is not financially viable, parents should be able to depend on the public system to provide for their children’s education. If it is not, we should consider changing who runs our schools through the electoral process, becoming more engaged in their children’s education, or consider applying for a private school scholarship (which is privately-funded). That is why I believe in words living up to their definitions. I abhor the “Clear Skies Initiative” because it pollutes our air more. I opposed vouchers because private schools should remain private and not become another tier of our government, subject to increasing government regulation until they are eventually absorbed entirely.

Also, it is false that it costs less per pupil to educate a child with a voucher. The per pupil number that groups such as the Utah Taxpayers Association give includes bonded, capital expenditures that are not included when the legislature appropriates funds for public education. In fact, it costs less to educate a child in public school than private, especially if you consider that the voucher only covers tuition, not the costs public education does cover, like transportation and food. The voucher does not cover these costs if they are included in tuition.

Finally, you are deluding yourself if you believe two things: that the voucher $ will always come from the general fund and not from the education fund; and that elimination of public education is not the ultimate goal of the major voucher proponents (not everyone, just the ones that give millions of dollars annually to influence elections and government for their favor, which is their right). Ask your legislator, whether they voted yes or no on the issue, if they expect to see the day that voucher funding will come from the education fund. It will happen, just like when they pushed higher ed funding from the education fund, and changed the constitution to change which taxes go into which fund. The big voucher supporters are not going to stop with Utah, but will try to achieve the same results nationally, until public ed does not exist.

Hat-tip: Crooks and Liars, Davis County Watch


Jesse Harris said...

I see a much more optimistic endgame via vouchers: removing administrative middle-men from the education question almost entirely. The result I'd like to see from vouchers is that teachers are the administrators of their own one-room schools. They'd more or less end up being like doctors, setting up their own "private practices" of sorts or even joining together with a few other teachers to form smaller and more personal schools.

There's a lot I could write on this topic (which I probably will at a later point), but I just wanted to throw that possibility out there. I really do believe that vouchers, with appropriate oversight, can open up new possibilities for education.

Marshall said...

Wow Jesse that would be ignoring what has happened in every other industry.

Name one industry where consolidation has not been the norm.

This is the major problem I have with voucher supporters, they talk about all the benefits of the free market but are quick to ignore the drawbacks.

Even if a few teachers are able to run one-room private schools I have no doubt that a Walmart clone will quickly move in and use its economies of scale to gain market share.

Jesse Harris said...

The economy of scale only works so well for so long with a service-based industry. There's a reason that Geek Squad can't kill the neighborhood computer shop: they're too big to compete effectively. A Walmart-style school franchise would probably end up in the same boat, unable to attract good talent and overcharging to boot.