Why is the conservative idea for public education to have public money pay for children to go to private schools? Why isn’t it to get the government out of education altogether, stop collecting all those tax dollars for education, and let the people do whatever they choose with the money they then don’t have to pay in taxes?
As someone without children who went to Catholic schools that got no government money and then a state university, I see reasons to support public schools, but I need to be convinced that my tax dollars should pay for private schools for other people’s children.
Why is the conservative idea for public education to have public money pay for children to go to private schools?
Why is the conservative position on any issue what it is? It’s a mixture of principle, compromise, bias, and accident. There are some conservatives who think the government ought to play no role whatsoever in education, and who oppose school vouchers for that reason. There are others who might favor this as an ideal, but think it’s unrealistic and who favor vouchers as a second best alternative. There are others who think that the government does have a role to play in education, but who think that vouchers are either a better alternative or a needed supplement to having schools run by the government. And I would imagine that for most self-described conservatives, the possibility of there being no government involvement in education has never even occurred to them.
In any even, who cares? The question, to my way of thinking, is not whether school vouchers are a conservative idea (or whether conservatives are consistent in advocating it, or whatever). The question is whether vouchers are a good idea.
The question is whether vouchers are a good idea.
It seems to me that, as with so many issues, vouchers are a good idea if you are philosophically in favor of vouchers, and they are a bad idea if you are philosophically opposed to vouchers. It would probably be more profitable to study why some people wind up as liberals and others as conservatives than to debate the merits of governmental approaches liberals love and conservatives hate, or vice versa, since it is rare that empirical evidence changes anyone’s mind. (Why should someone’s party affiliation so heavily influence what his or her beliefs are regarding a scientific matter such as global warming?)
While it would take a heart of stone not to want to see the kids in the video get some kind of help, from what I have read, there are only about 1700 students in the program, out of 71,000 in the public school system. It seems to me if people want to do something about public education in Washington, DC, the first thing they ought to do is support Michelle Rhee in her reform efforts.
It seems to me if people want to do something about public education in Washington, DC, the first thing they ought to do is support Michelle Rhee in her reform efforts.
Well, okay. But the D.C. school voucher program is part of her reform efforts.
She has only been Chancellor of the D.C. school system since June 2007, whereas the voucher program was created by an act of Congress in 2004. So I wouldn’t call it part of her program.
There was an editorial in the Washington Post yesterday taking the Democrats to task for attempts to kill the program. If Michelle Rhee has taken a position, I can’t find it.
Read the article I linked to in my last comment.
Rhee herself isn’t on record supporting or opposing vouchers. Leaving that aside, there’s no reason you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time: Support Rhee’s efforts to reform public schools, but in the meantime allow at least a few of the impoverished voucher students to go to a school that makes them happier. David, unless you’re objecting to the notion of having to pay for public schools at all, I’m not sure what your argument is: the DC vouchers are much cheaper than what the DC public schools spend per pupil.
David, unless you’re objecting to the notion of having to pay for public schools at all, I’m not sure what your argument is: the DC vouchers are much cheaper than what the DC public schools spend per pupil.
While not taking a firm position on this particular program in Washington, I would say my inclination is strongly toward spending tax dollars on public schools, and getting the money for scholarships (or vouchers) somewhere else. I am not really sure, but I think it is federal money that pays for these vouchers, and I don’t believe it is money taken away from the DC school system. I would probably object to that.
I believe that what the government should be doing is strengthening our public schools in any way they can. I don’t see how giving people taxpayers’ money to send their children to private schools strengthens the public schools.
If I want to pay for children to go to private schools, I would prefer to do it by making charitable contributions to the kinds of schools I support.
It is very long, and I believe I did read the pertinent part, which makes it sound like Rhee has something to do with the vouchers. I will read it more carefully when I get home.
I don’t see how giving people taxpayers’ money to send their children to private schools strengthens the public schools.
There’s actually some research on that point, and unsurprisingly, public schools tend to improve under the threat of competition from vouchers. (Unsurprising because without some competition, monopolies tend to have less incentive to perform well.)
Why isn’t it to get the government out of education altogether, stop collecting all those tax dollars for education, and let the people do whatever they choose with the money they then don’t have to pay in taxes?
Sounds good to me. Maybe if people didn’t need to pay the exorbitant taxes they do, there would be more money to send kids to private schools.
Let’s not equate schooling with education. Sometimes the two have something to do with each other, but, oftentimes, they don’t. Even homeschooling can just be schooling at the kitchen table with very little regard for educative learning. These issues, to me, are simply distractions from the biggers issues like the justness and/or justifiability of a compulsory schooling program and the use of education for democracy or the use of schooling as a means to manufacture consent in a faux democracy.
There’s actually some research on that point, and unsurprisingly, public schools tend to improve under the threat of competition from vouchers.
It doesn’t seem implausible. But remember, something evil may never be done so that good may come of it.
Having looked into the matter further, it appears that Rhee hasn’t taken a “formal position” on school vouchers.
What the h***? I’ve never anyone (even the most rabid opponent of vouchers) claim that vouchers are “evil.”
Given that David doesn’t believe in the “don’t do evil that good may come” principle to begin with, I can only assume he’s joking.
Ah, that might make sense. :) Anyway, it’s rather odd to say that vouchers are bad when the very premise of their badness (harm to the public schools) has been rather decisively refuted by virtually all of the scholarly evidence.
I was joking . . . kind of. But it strikes me that the whole school voucher argument (like many political arguments) is not about what can be empirically verified. It’s about what one’s philosophy of government is.
Were I a politician, instead of trying to prove that vouchers do not result in competition that improves the public schools, I hope I would react with something like, “I don’t believe it is right for taxpayers to pay for children to attend private schools, so can we find some way to create competition within the public school system that will have the same effect? Or can we find some way to increase the number of scholarships funded by the private sector instead of having the government fund a voucher program?
Were I a politician, instead of trying to prove that vouchers do not result in competition that improves the public schools, I hope I would react with something like, “I don’t believe it is right for taxpayers to pay for children to attend private schools
Do you think it’s right for taxpayers to pay for children to see private doctors?
So are you arguing that vouchers are neither a good nor a bad thing when it comes to educating students better, but merely a partisan football with no factual matter to debate?
I guess I’m a little confused by your whole take in that it doesn’t seem to me there’s necessarily a difference of kind between public and private schools. If public money can be used to educate children in private schools and end up with them better educated for less money than putting them through schools directly run by the government, that seems like an entirely good thing. If public schools are of equal or better quality, then I would assume no students would accept the vouchers anyway.
David — how about housing vouchers? Those have been around since the early 1980s. We should get rid of them, right? True liberalism requires that poor people only get to live in an ugly high-rise that the government actually builds. Right?
Darwin and S.B.,
My feeling is that private schools should be able to teach whatever they want to teach, be it Catholicism, Islam, Christian fundamentalism, creationism, Scientology (there are indeed Scientology schools), and so on, and taxpayers should not be obliged to support religions or philosophies or pseudo-sciences they don’t believe in. Taxpayers democratically control the public schools they pay for, but they do not (and should not) have control over private schools.
Housing vouchers do not raise the same issues. There are other issues, however, in that I seem to recall some years ago people getting housing vouchers to live in better housing than I do. I am all for solving the homeless problem and getting people into affordable housing, but I don’t want to pay for people who can’t afford housing to get better housing than people who can afford housing and also pay taxes.
taxpayers should not be obliged to support religions or philosophies or pseudo-sciences they don’t believe in.
If that’s your belief, then it’s hard to see how you could support the existence of public schools at all, since such schools will inevitably use taxpayer dollars to teach something that taxpayers don’t believe in. A significant number of people, for example, don’t believe in evolution and would not want their tax dollars being used to teach evolution to children.
A significant number of people, for example, don’t believe in evolution and would not want their tax dollars being used to teach evolution to children.
Yes, but the difference is that they’re wrong! (I am joking, although of course they are wrong.)
The real difference is that what is taught in the public schools is determined democratically. The battle over teaching evolution is still going on, including at the moment in Texas (your home state, right?)
There appears to be general agreement that we should have public schools. If at some point there are irreconcilable differences among large enough numbers about what the schools should teach, then perhaps we’ll have to junk public schools. But at the moment, the choice seems to be to have the schools, fight for what you want taught, and if you lose and can’t abide what the schools are teaching, continue to pay your taxes but also pay to send your children to a private school.
Wouldn’t having each set of parents choose their child’s school be more democratic? Clearly that would result in a distribution of funds to schools pretty closely mirroring the percentages of opinion in regards to education across the American population.
I suppose part of the question here is what one considers the point of “democracy” to be. If one considers it essential that the majority be able to impose its will on the minority in all respects, than the winner-takes-all approach to public school owership would make a lot of sense. If one sees democracy as an attempt to satisfy as many people as possible while harming as few as possible, then one would think that a distributed approach such as vouchers would be preferable to a centralized one where such a distributed system is possible.
Myself, I’d worry rather more about how abysmally the public school system is failing in much of the country than whether somewhere, somehow, someone will send their kids to a school belonging to a flakey religion with my tax dollars. After all, parents are usually able to successfully raise their children in their flakey religions anyway. And given our nations commitment to religious freedom, I don’t see the point of using the education system as a way of keeping them from doing so.
The real difference is that what is taught in the public schools is determined democratically.
The D.C. voucher program was also determined democratically (as are all voucher programs, actually), so that can’t be the difference.
Wouldn’t having each set of parents choose their child’s school be more democratic?
Well, I would then have to ask the question why I, who have no children, should have my money taken and given to people with children to pay for their schooling. As I have said before, it seems to me the only thing that makes it thinkable in the United States for there to be vouchers is that we have a long history of public education in which taxpayers paid for public schools. If instead we had a history of parents paying for schooling, and Obama were to propose a program of vouchers to pay for education, people would be screaming about the redistribution of income and socialized education.
I think every child has a right to health care (and I believe the Catholic Church does, too), but I don’t see the people who are pushing school vouchers talking about health-care vouchers for all children. (I personally would be willing to be taxed for universal health care.) In general, we expect people to pay for their own health insurance or health care, and then we may or may not help the needy who can’t afford it. So why don’t we expect everyone to pay for their own children’s education?
You are looking at this from the viewpoint that we all pay to educate children anyway. I am looking at it from the viewpoint that we all support public education, and those who want to send their children to private schools are free to do so at their own expense, but that doesn’t relieve them of the responsibility to pay taxes to support public education. That’s the system I grew up with. I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and my parents never expected the government to pay for it.
I have a lot of respect for what Michelle Rhee is trying to do in Washington, and she neither opposes nor supports vouchers, but she says they are not the solution to the problem. That is my feeling. Improving public education is what needs to be done.
I am saying it is the thing that makes the difference for me. I approve of public schools because they are paid for and controlled by the people. I don’t approve of vouchers because (among other reasons) it’s taking public money (including my tax dollars) to let parents send their children to schools whose programs I may not support. I am willing to pay taxes to support public education, and I am willing to support private education I approve of through charitable contributions, but I am not willing to support private education through my tax dollars.
There are people who I think make sense who oppose vouchers because they see it as a way for government to gain influence over private schools. Catholic health care organizations already worry about being “forced” to do things they do not want to when the “force” involved is the possibility of losing government funding if they don’t comply with government regulations. If you take government money, don’t be surprised if there are strings attached.
I am willing to pay taxes to support public education, and I am willing to support private education I approve of through charitable contributions, but I am not willing to support private education through my tax dollars.
It might be easier if you think of it as supporting children. The government isn’t picking and choosing what private schools to support directly — money is given to children (for now, every voucher program in America involves poor or disabled children) and they get to decide. It’s no different than a Pell grant being given to an 18-year-old college freshman and then he or she can spend it at any college, including private colleges. What’s so different about an 18-year-old who is in college (OK to spend Pell grants anywhere) vs. the same 18-year-old finishing high school (must be confined to government-owned-and-operated school)? There is none.
In addition, vouchers for education are really no different from Social Security money being given to old people who can then spend it at any number of private businesses, or Medicare being spent at private doctors, or Medicaid (same), or food stamps being spent at private grocery stores.
There’s really no reason to single out poor and disabled children as the only people in the world who can’t have any choice about how they spend their government assistance.
As you say, we’re arguing in the context of government money already going for schooling. But then, why shouldn’t we? It’s true that if there had never been public schooling in the US, I’d probably support only giving government money to those not able to afford schooling — and I’d possibly question whether it would be better to first try to encourage these subsidies through private foundations.
Applying the same question to health care, I don’t have any objection in principle to providing government funding for the healthcare of poor children, or indeed poor adults. We already do a great deal of this, and while I do think people are right to object to assigning these benefits to families earning well above the median income, I wouldn’t want to see them removed.
What I do object to (and I think this is the main conservative objection) is the drive that many progressives seem to have to provide “free” heathcare to people whether they actually need the financial assistance or not. This strikes me as simply political empire building — trying to provide a benefit to everyone (rather than just those who need it) in order to create a system of dependency where Democrats can always say, “You better not vote for Republicans, or they might take away the health care we gave you.” We’ve seen this deployed already in the Social Security debate, where attempts to means test or partially privatize Social Security (and thus make it solvent for the long term) are routinely denounced as “destroying social security” or “an ownership society means you’re on your own.”
Also, on a historical leve, I think you may be overstating the case. From what I recall, religious schools of all persuasions got government funding in some areas up until the 20s. During the 20s resurgence of the KKK, initiative were pushed through to insist on funding only going to government run schools, which were all explicity Protestant (and thus safely American in tone.) It was in turn not until the 60s that the newly secular elite dreamed up the “wall between church and state” interpretation of the constitution in order to turn the public schools secular by fiat.
And still, I don’t really get how the democracy thing comes into it. If your state approves curriculums which you think are terrible, but does so through the valid democratic-ish process currently in place for school boards, then all students will be taught in a manner contrary to your wishes. Whereas if we had an entirely voucher-based system, students would be educated according to your wishes or otherwise depending on how culturally dominant your ideas are. Either way, not all students getting government funds are going to be educated according to your wishes.
I approve of public schools because they are paid for and controlled by the people. I don’t approve of vouchers because (among other reasons) it’s taking public money (including my tax dollars) to let parents send their children to schools whose programs I may not support.
This is like saying that you love chocolate ice cream but don’t like strawberry ice cream because it’s made from dairy products. The things you say you find objectionable about using tax money to fund private schools are also the case when the government uses tax money to pay for public schools.
What is sad, to me, about this conversation is that many thoughtful Catholics seem comfortable with a “baseline” of government control of the delivery and control of education. Try this: imagine that we believed in “public education” in a different, and better, way: We raise money, through taxes, to educate children, and we pay for that education at whatever (qualifying, competent) school parents choose. This would be “public” education, wouldn’t it? Instead, we have thoughtful Catholics buying the “vouchers are an effort to divert public money, etc. etc.” line. Here’re the real issues: Catholic parents who desire to educate their children in accord with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are double-taxed, and those kids who cannot afford private schools are getting, well, screwed by corrupt and incompetent government-school bureaucracies. And this is not an outrage?
First of all, it is not double taxation if people choose to send their children to private schools any more than it is double taxation if I choose to use UPS or FedEx rather than the USPS, or drink bottled water rather than New York City water, or buy my books from Amazon.com rather than use the New York Public Library?
Second, if we abandon public education through government-run schools, please explain to me why we shouldn’t just close government-run schools, drastically lower taxes, and let parents pay for the education of their own children. Why should taxpayers who have no children, or taxpayers whose children are too young for school or have completed their schooling, be paying taxes to send other people’s children to school?
We raise money, through taxes, to educate children, and we pay for that education at whatever (qualifying, competent) school parents choose.
Of course, it will be up to the government, in a voucher system, to decide which private schools are “qualifying” and “competent.” Consequently the government is still involved in deciding how people should educate their children. Do you really expect government to provide money with no strings attached?
Also, one of the assumptions of proponents of vouchers is that public schools are all failures. However, there are many excellent public schools, and I would venture to say that there are many private schools, including Catholic schools, that are less than excellent.
I am by no means an expert, but it seems to me one of the serious problems for Catholic education is the drastic decrease in the number of people entering religious orders. I attended a Christian Brothers high school (graduating in 1965), and kept hearing about former teachers who had left the order. Now my old high school describes itself as “consistent in its teachings that are based on the educational principles of St. John Baptist de La Salle,” however, there are no longer any Christian Brothers teaching there. The “sister school” to LaSalle was McAuley High School, still sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, but no Sisters of Mercy actually teach there. I am sure there can be lay teachers who do an excellent job of teaching Catholic values, but it appears to me Catholic education in many schools is in the hands of lay people and quite different from what it used to be. Vouchers aren’t going to increase the number of people joining religious orders, and although salaries at Catholic schools are notoriously lower than at public schools, it is still more costly to staff a school with lay teachers than with brothers or nuns.
What I do object to (and I think this is the main conservative objection) is the drive that many progressives seem to have to provide “free” heathcare to people whether they actually need the financial assistance or not.
I don’t see why you have this objection regarding health care but not to education?
There is a theme running through this discussion that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s something along the lines that when all the people in a democratic group do something (like create a public school system), that is actually undemocratic because some groups don’t get their way — Catholics don’t get religion in the curriculum of the public schools, and fundamentalists have to put up with having evolution taught in science classes. It seems to me that it is a good thing when people do things collectively in a democracy. America is a “melting pot,” and it is a good thing that Catholics and Protestants and Jews and Muslims (and blacks, and whites, and Asians, and Latinos) attend public schools together rather than all going off to schools that cater to their religion and ethnicity. Didn’t the Supreme Court find that separate is not equal?
Also, one of the assumptions of proponents of vouchers is that public schools are all failures. However, there are many excellent public schools, and I would venture to say that there are many private schools, including Catholic schools, that are less than excellent.
No, that isn’t the assumption at all. The assumption is that regardless of whether public schools are failures, people are generally better off if they have some choice as to where a kid attends school. A public school can be just fine, as a general matter, but there are still all kinds of reasons that you might want to send a child elsewhere: better moral instruction, avoiding a particular bully, seeking a curriculum that is better suited to your child’s learning style and capabilities (sometimes a child is too advanced or too far behind the instruction in a particular school), seeking a school that has a more active parent community, and much more.
Rich parents already make these decisions for themselves — whether by paying for private school or by moving to different (or more expensive) neighborhoods. Vouchers represent a way for poor people to have at least something of a choice as well.
Well, as I said, if we were in a state where government had never paid for schooling, I would not advocate going to a state where everyone gets free schooling. And indeed, if we switched to an all voucher system, it would be easy to then start doing things like means testing the vouchers and so on.
I would assume that you must have some sort of answer to your question as to why people should support government school funding in the first place, or you would would be against public schools, Pell grants, state universities, etc. Is it not perhaps that there is a national interest in an educated citizenry?
Seeing your second comment, I see you argue that it is in the state’s interest that schools serve as a cultural melting pot — and thus you see that aim as best fulfilled by a centralized school system. I guess the thing is: I oppose centralized schooling because I do care very much about an educated citizenry and a cultural melting pot, but I think the public school system is so unweildy as to be very hard to influence.
Say you really think that students should all be taught US History three times, once at the elementary level, once in junior high, and once in high school. How would you effect that through our current democratically run public schools? Say you wanted students to start studying a foreign language in third grade.
Or public schools are theoretically democratically run (as in we are ocassionally allowed to vote for school board members) but in fact we have very, very little control over what goes on in them. Despite tracking education rather closely, I have _never_ seen a realy academic or curriculum debate brought to voters via one of these elections. (At most, people debate funding and spending.)
Now in a decentralized system, one couldn’t vote to select who ran the schools, but those who did run all the schools would be able to choose whatever curriculums they wished, so it would be much a easier and more open process to influence individual schools. And people could vote with their feet for what they considered to be a good education.
So essentially (and I say this totally ignoring the question of religious schools), I support a decentralized, voucher based school system because I have much more faith in the ability of parents to choose good schools for their children than I do in the educational beaurocracy to produce good schools via the current process.
Here’s one problem. Public schools are now obligated to take all students. My niece, who is now past high school age, is developmentally disabled and will never be able to read or write. However, she went to one of the best high schools in the country at taxpayer expense, and they did everything they could for her. She required a lot of individual attention. If there were a voucher system and no public schools, how many private schools do you think would have accepted her? Could she have gone to Catholic school? What would be the obligation of private schools to accept students they would not ordinarily have accepted if public schools were available.
Also, would you expect taxpayers to acquiesce in a system where vouchers were used to send children to schools they found patently offensive? I was just reading an article about government-funding in Britain for Muslim schools that opponents claim teach hatred of the West.
Once again, it seems to me it would be more in keeping with conservative principles to simply abolish public schools, abolish taxation for education, and let parents pay the full cost of their children’s schooling. If I had to make a choice between vouchers for everyone and no public funding for schools (grades K-12, colleges being a different matter), I would choose the latter.
If there were a voucher system and no public schools, how many private schools do you think would have accepted her?
If you want to know about this issue, there’s no need for hypothetical questions. Instead, you can look into Florida’s McKay voucher program, which currently helps 19,850 disabled and special needs students in Florida attend private schools. Or you might look into an Arizona voucher program called the “Arizona Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities,” which is self-explanatory. Those real-world programs would give you a decent idea of whether private schools can ever serve disabled children.
I don’t have time to do major research on these two programs, but when I google “McKay voucher program,” almost everything that comes up is negative. While 19,850 seems like a big number, it’s only 4.5% of Florida’s special ed students. Does this mean the parents of 95.5% of special ed students are happy with the public schools? It also appears that there is no data collected on the performance of the students who attend the private schools. So how do we measure how well they are doing? Is parental satisfaction enough?
It looks like the Arizona program is tiny (under 500 students) and according to Wikipedia, 76% of the money has gone to students already in private school.
In any case, regardless of the merits of these two programs, it seems to me there is a major difference between giving vouchers to special-needs students whose local public school may not offer the services they need, and giving vouchers to everyone so parents can send their children to any school they please. It is a big difference if a student has a learning disability that the local public school does not have the resources to deal with, compared to the public school not teaching Catholicism to Catholic students. So I think the idea of vouchers for special-needs students is quite a different matter than the idea of vouchers for everyone.
and giving vouchers to everyone so parents can send their children to any school they please.
Who has proposed this? Right now, we’re talking about the efforts of congressional Democrats to take away vouchers from under 2,000 impoverished black inner-city residents. It’s a complete straw man to start speculating about the problems that would supposedly emerge if no public schools existed anywhere.
Public schools have a 90% monopoly in this country, and they aren’t going anywhere in our lifetimes. If the country transitions to a more privatized model, I don’t see it happening before at least a hundred years. And during all of that time, society would have a chance to prepare, to see if things would really work out, etc.
Who has proposed this?
DarwinCatholic in his message of March 2, 2009 at 11:16 am. (unless I am misinterpreting him).
I think most people who support vouchers as a matter of principle are conservatives who think government can’t do anything well and who ultimately look to eliminate public schools.
With all due respect, the claim that “most people who support vouchers as a matter of principles are conservatives who think government cannot do anything well and who ultimately look to eliminate public schools” is entirely false. This might have been the Friedman view, but it is not (close to being) the dominant view in the education-reform movement today. Today, most who support vouchers do so for social-justice and religious-freedom reasons. Read, e.g., Coons, Viteritti, Peterson, Campbell, etc., etc.
I’m sorry I have not been diligent in following this thread, but — for what it’s worth — my view (which is informed by a great deal of scholarly and in-the-trenches work on this matter) is that most of the objections you have been raising in this thread are answerable (that is, they could be answered, I suspect, to *your* satisfaction).
Give choice a chance. =-)
It’s funny how Obama ran on a campaign of helping out the poor people and giving them opportunities they would not otherwise have, but undoing this program will do just that, it will keep poor children, (that are black by the way) from attending the same school as his two daughters. He needs to practice what he preaches. One rule for Republicans and another for Democrats…unacceptable. People want to talk about the government (our tax dollars) paying for things like this…OH but it’s just peachy keen fine for MY tax dollars to pay for the homes of irresponsible people who otherwise couldn’t afford homes and knew it at the time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientsit to figure out if you are making 50k a year for a family of 4, that you cannot afford a 250k home. It’s called addition and subtraction. But then again had these people been allowed to participate in the voucher program and go to school in places like the obama girls go….then mabey they would have been able to do the math!
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