Mikel Livingston, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has an article about the implementation of the recently passed school voucher law, HB 1003, in the Lafayette area.
I expect they’ll work them out. Parents are calling schools and unable to get all the details about the vouchers. Some of the private schools are concerned about the accreditation requirement. And, of course, a lawsuit has been filed challenging the validity of the voucher law.
I’ve discussed some of this in prior posts, but it’s probably worth mentioning again. I had an exchange with Abdul over at Indiana Barrister, and we had a fundamental disagreement about what public school money is actually for. He had a vision where that money was, in effect, for the benefit of the individual students and, by extension, the student’s parents. For my part, I think we’re using those public funds in an attempt to buy an educated populace. With those very different visions of what the money is for, we naturally reach different conclusions about the desirability of a voucher system.
Under the first view of things (I hesitate to call it the “Abdul” view in case I have not accurately described it), it’s the student’s education & it’s the student’s money. They should be able to spend it how they please. Under my view, the public is attempting to buy an educated populace – not solely out of the goodness of its heart; but because an educated society is more pleasant to live in, easier to manage, and less prone to crime.
In the voucher debate, there is a lot of discussion about the fairness of allowing the student to “choose” their own school and to having a particular amount of money allotted to each student. But, this sort of entitlement model does not address the fairness of taxing, for example, the childless to pay for the education of those who have decided to have kids.
Taxing the entire community to pay for education makes sense only if the entire community has a skin in the game. And they do. A broad base of educated people is beneficial to the entire community. Where the two models diverge is if we set up a system where the entitlement model results in worse education for a substantial portion of the population.
Voucher proponents insist this won’t happen. Quite the reverse, they assure us. Free market pixie dust will result in better schools for everyone. The pressure of competition will make the bad schools improve their product. However, in my opinion, this ignores the fact that a market system only works where one party is able to walk away from the transaction if its cost is too high for the party’s liking. So long as we are committed to universal education, the freedom to walk away is not present.
One of the dirty little secrets of public education is that kids are not widgets that are equally expensive to educate. Some are pretty easy, almost taking care of their own education. Others require constant attention and, what’s worse, through their disruptiveness threaten to make the easier ones more of a challenge. But, it’s a “stitch in time saves nine” scenario. Take care of those kids now, and it’s a bit of a hassle with better behaved kids effectively subsidizing their education. Fail to take care of those kids now, and you’ll be carrying them in your jails and/or unemployment rolls for a long time to come.
I foresee vouchers resulting in a dynamic where the cream gets skimmed off the top by private schools, leaving the public schools with the more difficult students and less money to deal with them. Since no such idle rant about education would be complete without a modest proposal from someone who knows little about educating, I have one. We should try a voucher system available only to those students in the bottom percentages of their schools. These are the ones who aren’t, for one reason or another, thriving in the public school. And, it would also alleviate the concern about the cherry-picking dynamic. There. Problem solved.