Friday, March 27, 2015

Voucher Party

One of the foundational assertions of the charter movement is that public school tax dollars, once collected, should be attached to the child, maybe in a backpack, or perhaps surgically. "This public money... belongs to the student, not the failing school" wrote a commenter on one of my HuffPost pieces today. And I've heard variations on that over and over from charter advocates.

The money belongs to the student.

I've resisted this notion for a long time. The money, I liked to say, belongs to the taxpayers, who have used it to create a school system that serves the entire community by filling that community with well-educated adults who make better employees, customers, voters, neighbors, parents, and citizens. But hey-- maybe I've been wrong. Maybe that money, once collected really does belong to the student. In which case, let's really do this.

Let's let the student spend his voucher money (and let's stop pussyfooting around this-- when we talk about the money following the students, we're talking about vouchers) on the education of his dreams.

Does she want to go to the shiny new charter school? Let her go (as long as they'll take her, of course). But why stop there? Travel has long been considered a broadening experience-- what if she wants to take the voucher and spend it on a world cruise? Why not? It's her money. Perhaps she wants to become a champion basketball player-- would her time not be well spent hiring a coach and shooting hoops all day? Maybe she would like to develop her skills playing PS4 games, pursuant to a career in video-game tournaments. That's educational. In fact, as I recall the misspent youth of many of my cohort, I seem to recall that many found smoking weed and contemplating the universe to be highly educational. I bet a voucher would buy a lot of weed.

What's that, charter advocate? Do I hear you saying that's an unfair comparison, that obviously a high quality charter school is way different from smoking a lot of weed. I agree, but that's beside the point.

The money belongs to the student.

You didn't say that the money was the student's to be used on educational experiences that met with the approval of some overseeing government body. You didn't say that the money was the student's on the condition that the student got somebody's permission to use it first.You didn't say that we'd need to put strings on how the money is spent because students and their parents might not always make responsible choices.

You said the money belongs to the student.

Heck, let's really go all in. Why use the odd fiction of a voucher at all-- let's just collect taxes and cut every single student an annual check for $10,000 (or whatever the going rate is in your neighborhood). Let's just hand them the money that we're asserting belongs to them, and let them spend it as they wish. Maybe they'd like a nice couch, or a new iPad, or a sweet skateboard, or a giant voucher party, or food and clothing for themselves and their family.

Unless of course you'd like to suggest that the taxpayers who handed over that money and the community that collected it have an interest in making sure that it's spent well and responsibly in a way that serves the community's greater good. In which case we can go back to discussing how those needs of the stakeholders--ALL the stakeholders-- are best served by an all-inclusive community-based taxpayer-controlled educational system, and stop saying silly things like, "The money belongs to the student."


  1. The truth about "choice" and "vouchers."

  2. I disagree with your ideas, mostly. Who owns taxpayer money? I say the taxpayer. The money is remitted to the government, and the government has the "power of attorney" to disburse the funds. the public pays for the public purse.

    I am strong supporter of school choice. If a parent is dissatisfied with the local public school, then he/she should be able to withdraw the child from the bad school, and also receive a rebate on the tax contributions he/she has made. Then the parent should be able to select the education that the parent feel is adequate.

    The rebate (voucher) must be provided with "strings". The parent must be required to redeem the voucher on an accredited school (or a home school that meets the requirements of the state of residence). The voucher can also be used to meet incidental expenses, such as transportation. It makes no sense to pay for a school bus that you do not ride, than it does to pay for a school that you do not attend.

    No serious person advocates turning over the voucher without strict requirements for its subsequent disbursal.

    A federal K-12 voucher could work just like a Pell Grant (BEOG). The funds would be turned over to the parents (NOT the minor child).

    School choice is inherently empowering. It is a zero-sum game. The spending will disappear from the government-monopoly school.

    1. Applying market ideology to education makes no sense. By your thinking, everything should be privatized. Why should my tax money go to pave a road in a part of a state I never go to. Why would my money go to a military that has no connection to me? There are collective goods that are important for society. Look at what privatization has done to the prison system. The market is not the solution to all problems.

  3. What about taxpayers that by biology or choice have no children? By the argument that "taxpayers with children that don't like their public school should get a rebate" then non-child bearing taxpayers should get a no-child rebate. While we're at it, I don't like my Department of Transportation's decisions and need a tax rebate to help pay for when I drive on private toll roads. Don't even get me started on the tax rebates I would like to direct towards the Peace Corp instead of war.

  4. So I do not have any school age children living in my home anymore. I haven't for over a decade. I have paid into the system and am a "taxpayer". What "rebate" do I get? I don't mind paying taxes to properly fund our PUBLIC education system because it benefits us ALL, but I do mind helping to send others kids to private schools. We have "school choice" as the voucher vultures like to call it. You can send your children to whatever school you want. Please do. You pay for it. Public money pays for public schools. Period. It fascinates me how we never had any trouble paying for PUBLIC education until someone decided to make a business out of educating our kids. Greed is the problem here, not public education.

  5. In Texas, our state is proposing a $7500 Education Savings Account. I would have to own a $700,00 home in order to pay in $7500 worth of taxes in order to fund my ESA. This is not my money, its an entitlement. I am going to have to take the tax money from my neighbors and the businesses down the street in order to make up the difference for the measly $3500 that my family has paid in local property taxes. And if you think only "non-serious" people would give a private or homeschool a voucher without strict requirements then you need to call our Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. He said that parents would hold the private schools accountable and that they don't have to worry about getting the testing and mountain of mandates that are used to hold public schools accountable. True story.

  6. Taxes are the cost we pay for what we euphemistically call "civilization". I pay taxes that build interstate highways in California, even though I live in Virginia. I do not agree with every spending decision of the government. I do not have any relatives in prison, but I still must pay to incarcerate people, so that I can live in a society with crime that is more or less under control. I expect no rebate from the government, because I do not directly utilize the services that government provides.

    If you feel that the Defense Department is getting too much funding, tell this to your elected representatives.

  7. When a person pays property taxes for police and fire protection, this is a public good. I support the Fairfax county fire department, and I have for many years, even though I have never called the fire department to put out a fire in my house.

    I pay for public financing of education, so that I can live in an educated society. With a more educated populace, people can earn a higher wage, and we all live with a higher standard of living. An educated populace, is also a guarantor of liberty; educated people are less likely to seek the easy way of having a dictator, and will more likely vote intelligently, and will keep a close watch on government. "Government is like fire, a dangerous servant, and a terrible master"- George Washington.

    In 1930's Germany, the Nazis never got much more than 30% of the popular vote. A more highly educated Germany, would probably not have turned to Hitler.

    I am delighted that the federal government provides funding to university level students to attend college with Pell Grants and the GI Bill. If they use these funds to attend Notre Dame(catholic) or Brigham Young (Mormon) or Southern Methodist University, or the Islamic University of Minnesota, then I am delighted. They are using this public money to obtain an education (university level) with my tax dollars. Purchasing this education with my tax dollars, is perfectly fine with me.

    I wish to continue to support the public education system of this country at the K-12 level. I want parents to have the same choice at the K-12 level, that parents have at the university level.

    Mr. Sullivan says to send to whatever school you want, and you pay for it. I agree enthusiastically. People should pay for the education of their children (and society at large). Where the education is obtained, whether public, private, home schooling, or parochial, should be left up to the parents.

    Paying for education costs, twice, is like buying two insurance policies on the same car. The rich may be able to do this, but people lower on the economic scale, are "trapped" into the government monopoly of schools.

  8. Mr. Agavin- The Texas program you describe, looks terrific. The state will rebate a portion of your taxes, to enable a USDOLS7500 savings account. People who are lower down on the economic ladder, will receive more subsidy than the rich. This will enable parents of modest means to have the same educational choices as wealthy people. The children of lower economic levels, will then be able to attend quality private and parochial schools(or even home-school).

    When I was in college, I was not wealthy. But the government took taxes from more affluent people, and used this money to provide me with Pell Grants, and GI Bill money, to attend a quality college. I benefitted, and society benefitted. I obtained my degree, earned a higher wage, and paid higher taxes.

    If school choice becomes a reality in our nation, all parents, not just the wealthy, will be able to obtain choice in the education of their children at the K-12 level, as they already have at the university level.

    The state governments can ensure that school choice vouchers can only be redeemed at accredited elementary and secondary schools (as they are now at the university level). School choice account and vouchers can also be rebated to parents who choose to home-school their children.

    With parental choice, parents will be able to select the type of school they send their children to. And, if the school is not providing the quality the parents desire, they are free to withdraw their children and transfer them. The metrics that the parents choose to use (Test scores, etc.) will be in hands of the parents and not the government.