Vouchers: Theory v. Practice

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vouchers: Theory v. Practice

So vouchers are back, with a vengence.
The Bush administration and Republican legislators yesterday proposed a $100 million national plan to offer low-income students private-school vouchers to escape low-performing public schools. The plan was immediately assailed by Democrats, unions and liberal advocacy groups.

The proposal comes four days after the independent research arm of the Department of Education issued a report showing that public schools are performing as well as or better than private schools, with the exception of eighth-grade reading, in which private schools excelled. The results prompted questions from foes of vouchers about why taxpayer money should go toward private schools instead of toward improving public schools.
I really am of two minds about vouchers. In principle and in theory, I am totally against them. It's a ridicuously myopic solution, it only "saves" a handful of kids and leaves the rest behind. It also gives public funds to private schools that do not have the same standards or accountability, so there is no assurance that the money is even well spent. It's an overused cliche, but vouchers are nothing more than a band-aid, not a cure.

However, in practice, I do have a slightly different POV, one that has been brought into tighter focus as my wife and I get closer to buying our first home. We have managed to find a great house in a wonderful neighborhood at a price we can afford-- the downside is that the school district leaves much to be desired. It's not even a mediocre school district, it's one of the worst, and, of course, it has the highest taxes.

So we're comfortable with the trade-off of raising our children in a progressive, gay-friendly neighborhood where they will know other families like ours and sending them to private school. But if vouchers were on the table would we try to get one? I don't know. It would be especially tempting consider the amount we're paying in taxes, so I can certainly understand the appeal on the level of the parents. But the politicians and public policy folks should be ashamed of themselves for trying to garner votes from inner-city parents by offering them a ticket to win the education lottery. It's just bad public policy, plain and simple.

One fix that I would get behind-- although I know it will never get off the ground because it would be political suicide-- is a centralized tax collection agency in every state along with equal distribution of school funds. All schools get the same amount, per kid, so funds would not be dependent on the wealth (or lack therof) of the local district. I'd truly love to see what would happen then.

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