Education: School Choice and Vouchers- The Way Forward

The key factor in true educational reform is an introduction of competition into the system- a viable option for parents to break free from the yoke of failing public schools.  Unfortunately it is the teacher unions that stand in the way of these reforms based upon misinformation, confusion of the facts and, in many cases, outright lies.  Their best argument is that the jury is still out on the efficacy of voucher systems and that we should not be experimenting while public schools need more funding.  First, they do not need more money as I have tried illustrate.  Second, it is not an experiment since research has shown that vouchers are an effective tool in the arsenal of school reform.  The jury is not out; it has spoken and vouchers are a success.  And although there may be conflicting studies published, the confusion and criticism is in the methodology, not the results.  And what are the results?  A net positive effect on the students who use the vouchers.  If there is any confusion, it is in the level of improvement, yet improvement nevertheless.

Milwaukee has perhaps the longest running school voucher program in the country that was most recently expanded in 2011.  There is minimal research on their effectiveness other than parents and students are satisfied with the system.  About 23,000 of Milwaukee’s students take advantage of this system with the bulk of them attending a parochial school, although there are secular private schools also.  One study showed that there was improvement after four years in private school, but prior to that gains were minimal.  Like all other things, there are well-performing public schools and poor performing private schools.  Under the Milwaukee system,  private schools must use standardized tests and there is some state oversight.  While the Left may claim this is an unnecessary diversion of tax dollars, that analysis is falling on the deaf ears of the students and parents who receive vouchers.

The DC voucher system is another example of a voucher system that worked before Obama pulled the plug on funding.  In short, the system was not given enough time to work and show sustainable results.  In its aftermath, the ones most hurt were the students and parents who lost those vouchers.  It should also be mentioned that the main beneficiaries of vouchers are minority and/or low income families.  Its bizarre that the Left would decry what could be considered “educational welfare,” but that is because their definition of a “helping hand” significantly differs from that of us on the Right.  Before funding was cut off, the DC program found that black students who received vouchers and a private school education were outperforming fellow black students in the public schools by nine percentile points in all areas.

Before moving forward, we also need to get beyond the separation of church and state arguments the Left will inevitably trot out.  As the Milwaukee example indicates since 71% of those students receiving vouchers attend parochial schools, provided there is not discrimination for or against any religion, there is no problem.  The Establishment Clause would only kick in if the system favored one religion over another.  Hence, if vouchers are provided for a Catholic school, then they should be for a Hebrew Academy, a Muslim-run school, or any Protestant sect.  Further, these schools, to be eligible to receive the voucher, have to agree to some measure of accountability for that money which may entail standardized testing and some level of state oversight.  Although all students should learn certain things at particular times, how the schools get there should not be regulated.  Forcing, for example, Common Core on private schools would be self-defeating.

So how would a voucher system work and why is it cost-effective?  Again, we will work with averages- $10,000 per pupil for a public school and $5,000 for a private school.  Further in this example, we will use as our jurisdiction State A with a student population of 1,000.  Using a family income sliding scale for eligibility, not everyone would qualify for 100% of a $5,000 voucher.  So let’s use the Milwaukee example and say 20% of students opt and qualify for some type of voucher.  That leaves 800 kids in the public school.  Of the 200 kids who opt for the voucher, half of them (100) qualify for the full $5,000, fifty qualify for 75% of that amount ($3,750) and the other fifty for half the amount ($2,500).  Remember that up front State A has already committed $10,000 per pupil.

Doing the math, the cost of the voucher program is: $500,000 for the 100% kids, $187,500 for the 75% kids and $125,000 for the 50% kids for a grand total of $812,500.  If they all remained in public school, the expenditures would be $10 million annually for those 1,000 kids.  Of the kids using vouchers not at 100%, the balance would be applied to the public school- a total of $200,000.  Adding that total to the 800 kids in public school at $10,000 per pupil, we get $8,200,000 pumped into the public schools which would, on an effective basis, actually INCREASE per pupil spending in public schools to $10,250.  That increased money could be used for improving technology, teacher raises…whatever the district wanted.

How on earth can this be interpreted as cutting funding to public schools? In gross dollar amounts, of course less money would be spent, but per pupil spending would actually increase as public school class size decreased.  And there lies the opposition.  With potentially smaller class sizes, there is less a need for so many teachers.  However, that fear of job loss can be overcome by the public  school upping their game and improving academic performance so that parents in the future will not have to consider a private school education.  Why would they if the local public school is performing?