School Vouchers, Continued

In this month’s CATALYST Magazine  John deJong addresses school vouchers in his monthly column:

What’s wrong with vouchers?

Well, everything.

If you like the idea of your gas money going to Saudi Arabia to support radical Moslem madrasas, you’ll love the idea of your education tax dollars going to support exclusive prep schools and Mormon madrasas. That’s not what school voucher proponents would like you to think, but that’s what will happen if Utah’s voucher law passes in November’s election.

Voucher proponents would like you to think the bill is designed to give students from economically disadvantaged homes a chance at a better education. If Utah’s voucher bill were really intended to help poor children get a better education, the cap would have been $8,000 for low-income families and nothing for families with income over $100,000. As it is, vouchers start at $3,000 and dwindle to $500 per student for families with an annual income of $200,000.

It’s possible that the bill’s sponsors really think you can get a good education for $3,000 a year. No one’s really tried the ultimate stack ’em-deep and teach ’em-cheap method for the bargain basement price of $3,000. Some private schools (mostly religious) claim to be in that ball park, but they undoubtedly make up some of the difference with religious donations.

The real problem with the voucher bill is the way it spends taxpayer money without any accountability requirements. There are no performance audit requirements for the private schools, so let the buyer beware and damn the tax payer. There are no financial reporting requirements. The unseen hand of the marketplace will insure that the worst schools will fail; but not until they’ve taken our money.

Private schools do not have to meet the state core curriculum requirements. So throw out all those history and math textbooks and bring on the “Teachings of Rulon Allred” and start building the curriculum for Polygamy 101 through Blood Atonement 689. You think I’m kidding? Only a little. These schools do not have to meet school accreditation requirements. Say hello to school libraries that could make the federal prison approved reading list look like the Library of Alexandria. The private schools do not have to adhere to teacher training or licensing requirements. If you’ve got a license to drive you’ve got a license to teach.

Public education is burdened with a blizzard of performance and financial requirements at both the state and federal levels. Voucher funds, on the other hand would have no such burdens. “Not to worry,” they say, because the magic of the marketplace will take care of that. Schools that don’t measure up-to what?-will fail. But how many millions of dollars and how many student years of schooling will be wasted?

Proponents of vouchers claim that public schools will actually end up with additional funds because only a portion of the funds currently allocated to each student would go with the student to a private school. The knife twist in that statement is “currently.” The legislature could change that next year.

What voucher proponents really want is social capitalism, a system where every social policy is calculated to maximize the return on investment. They’re already doing it with the environment, where the benefits of every regulation (lives saved or improved) are weighed (at cents on the dollar) against the costs of compliance to polluting corporations. And you know who’s been coming out on the short end of that stick. By that criteria, it is wisest to invest in the front runners. In the case of the social rat race that just happens to be the children of the already well-to-do.



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