by David Remer July 29, 2003 --PoliWatch.Org--
The 2004 elections will determine the fate of America's educational system, but also, in no small part, the future of America's work force which depends directly upon today's educational system. The fundamental issue is whether to voucher (fund) private schools from federal tax dollars and local public school funds or, provide more resources to the poorer public educational systems.
This appears to be a Democrat vs. Republican issue though, members of all parties can be found on both sides of the issue. The appearance is deceptive, however. The issue is really one of contention between moderate tax paying property owners and religious plus economic conservatives.
Before making the argument, let's see where the parties stand on this issue of school vouchers.
The Natural Law party is emphatic on this issue in their platform.
"The Natural Law Party also supports federally funded vouchers to increase parental options for school choice and to foster competition among schools."
The Constitution Party's position is probably for vouchers as indicated by this in their party platform:
"We support the unimpeded right of parents to provide for the education of their children in the manner they deem best, including home, private or religious."
The America First Party is ambiguous in their party platform:
"Parents will decide where and how their child will be educated, whether in public, private or religious education." ... "Every child should be allowed to have prayer at school, during recess, lunch, or after school on school property. They should be allowed to have religious classes on their own time. These schools are paid for by 'We the People.'"
On The Green Party web site, I could not find a specific reference to vouchers. However, it appears they do not support vouchers in light of their policy issue statements found under education:
Greens Advocate: Educational funding formulas that avoid gross inequalities between districts and schools. We are deeply concerned about the intervention in our schools of corporations.
The Libertarian Party 2000 platform addresses vouchers this way:
Democrats want to spend more of your money on all the failed federal programs that have done so much damage to America's schools. Republicans want to extend these bad programs to private schools - by issuing vouchers that will force private schools to obey federal rules.
Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, wants to get the federal government completely out of education - and repeal the income tax so you'll have the money to put your child in any school you want.
The Democratic Party opposes vouchers as evidenced by the following from their web site: "But Democrats, led by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), kept school vouchers out of the bill and ensured that schools in low income communities were targeted for additional funds."
The Republican position as evidenced by Children First America:
Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican and longtime advocate of school choice, said he is eager to sign the bill, while the Colorado Education Association, representing 36,000 public school teachers, has threatened a legal challenge.
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and leaders of both houses of the Republican-controlled Legislature have teamed with Rep. Ron Wilson, a black Democratic lawmaker from Houston, to support a similar voucher bill.
In Louisiana, where the Legislature just opened its new session, Gov. Mike Foster, a Republican, has offered a pilot voucher plan to give students in low-performing schools the option to transfer to private schools that take part in skills tests required by the state.
President Bush, a strong advocate of expanded school choice, included $75 million in his proposed fiscal year 2004 budget for pilot voucher programs throughout the country.
In every case of school vouchers the majority of the funds will come from the funds now used, and required, by public school systems. Even the $75 million in the 2004 proposed federal budget for voucher programs is $75 million less going to the support of the poorest public school systems. The consequence to tax payers and state budgets and public school systems cannot be overstated.
Proponents of school vouchers from President Bush on down state that vouchers will help the underprivileged student in an academically failing school to move to a passing or excelling school, improving that student's chances for learning and success. And at the same time, the President says his $75 million dollar program "is the beginning of an experiment that will show whether or not private school choice makes a difference in quality education in public schools. I happen to believe it will." (July 1, 2003)
Opponents to school vouchers such as the Texas Freedom Network
( a non profit organziation working against the religious right) says:
A Pilot Voucher program would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars in public tax dollars out of neighborhood public schools to fund private and religious schools. If the voucher lobby achieves their stated goal of a statewide voucher program, that amount would exceed $3 Billion!
Vouchers don't create 'choice' for parents and kids; they create 'choice' for private schools at taxpayers' expense. The private voucher experiment in progress in Edgewood ISD confirms that private schools will use vouchers to recruit the most talented and academically motivated kids out of public schools at taxpayers' expense, leaving behind the children who can't get into private school.
The math is interesting. An excellent article by the Star Tribune
explains how the math touted by voucher proponents does not add up.
Tuition doesn't cover the cost of a private-school education. At St. Paul Academy and Summit School, one of the Twin Cities' most prestigious prep schools, the average tuition will be $15,900 next year. But the cost of educating the average student will be $17,800, higher than the per-pupil cost of any public school district in Minnesota.
The gap is greater at many other private schools. Tuition and fees at Victoria's Holy Family Catholic High School in 2000-01 were $6,800 per pupil, but the total cost of educating that student was $10,136. That's a higher per-pupil cost than all but 11 of the state's 345 public school districts. Private schools make up much of the difference by soliciting donations from parents and alumni.
The property owning tax payers who fund the bulk of public education in America obviously stand to lose a great deal if a portion of their taxes supporting their child's public school goes to educate students at private or religious schools. Their property taxes must go up over time if they wish to make up the funding loss to the school system for a small minority of students who leave the system for private schools. This is the heart of the opposition's stance to vouchers. They wish to protect their tax dollar investment in the public school their children go to.
What do the voucher advocates stand to gain? Let us first look at who the advocates are.
First there is the religious right. Deorah Kovach Caldwell,
Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News reports:
Leaders of a rapidly growing movement of conservative Christians are urging followers to withdraw their children from public schools by next year in order to bring down the government school system.
At least four organizations have sprung up around the country in recent months to press parents to abandon what fund-raising letters describe as atheistic and unclean public schools in favor of home schooling and Christian academies.
Next there are the entrepreneurs: William Bennett, a conservative founder of K12, has a web site which states: "K12 also serves homeschooling families by making a portion of its curriculum available for direct purchase by consumers." Mr. Bennett has been in Texas lobbying mightily in the state's congress to pass a voucher system there. He and his company's investors of course stand to profit nicely.
Noam Chomsky writes:
In fact, a couple of years ago already, the big investment firms, like Lehman Brothers, and so on, were sending around brochures to their clients saying, "Look, we've taken over the health system; we've taken over the prison system; the next big target is the educational system. So we can privatize the educational system, make a lot of money out of it."
Then there are the neoconservative Milton Friedman followers who believe that free markets alone produce the best goods and services and that all education should eventually be provided by private institutions and thus add stimulus to the economy. His followers, (President Bush among them if you read his speeches) fail to observe however, Friedman's implied warning that because a corporation's sole responsibility and goal is to maximize profits; ethics, morality or even compassion have no place in the corporation save as public relations, marketing/advertising tools, or increasing market share.
Finally, there are the students. There is no doubt that some students who leave a failing inner city school using a voucher to attend a superior school will find their educational experience enhanced, perhaps even greatly so. But, at what cost to the remaining students and their families?
When one does the math objectively, taking into account all of the costs for educating a student including public subsidy of private school nurses, books, educational materials, and out of pocket expenses by parents for non-tuition costs, private education costs more per student than public education. Since, the cost of vouchers will come from property tax payers, the cost of property taxes must eventually go up.
The dollars spent on vouchers equal dollars not being spent on public school students, which inevitably will result in a vicious cycle of lowered quality of education at public schools, greater vouchers to transfer students, resulting in even more funding losses to public schools, leading to more vouchered students in private schools, etc. etc. until public schools are no longer viable. End result a completely privatized school system in America which will cost more than the public system did.
The cost of privatizing America's school systems is great. The first and perhaps greatest cost will be to the students themselves. The reason for this is the profit motive. Ultimately, a privatized educational system will be answerable to its shareholders, and not to parents or students. When profits go down due to competitive forces, educational quality will follow suit. And ironically, when monopolization occurs, as will be the case as one or another competitor in the market eventually becomes the largest market shareholder, a stabilization will occur where the lowest cost education is provided at the highest sustainable profit levels. As we have all seen in this latest recession, the profitability of corporations was maintained by most through cost cutting efforts. This same free market force will take place in a privatized educational system.
The next major cost of taking vouchers to its logical conclusion is the elimination of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause prohibits the government from establishing a national religion. When most of us think of private schools, we think of Catholic schools or private Christian schools. These schools will be direct beneficiaries of the voucher system. In fact, it may not be an accidental coincidence that vouchers and faith based legislation are occurring simultaneously. Note this from the The Christian Science Monitor
[...]the two items may be very closely tied together by the Supreme Court's ruling. "Christian organizations and scholars have been working to nudge the court into a new interpretation of the First Amendment that would open the door to widespread change, putting faith institutions on an equal footing with secular groups as recipients of public funds," writes Jane Lampman. "They've had small victories in recent years, but hope this serves as the 'tipping point.'"
Finally, there will be the cost to the future work force. As corporatization of education takes place, the chief consumer of that education will be corporations. That is to say, corporations already spend large sums of money at college campuses not only in recruiting graduates as new employees, but, also in influencing the higher institutions in regard to curriculum. Hewlett Packard, Microsoft other large corporations lobby the educational system for the shaping of the student's education in accordance with the needs of the industry. Students may become better trained for the work force, but, will they become better people, capable of managing their lives well and fully?
There is no reason to believe that such large dollar influence will not immediately make its mark on K-12 education when K-12 schools become corporations themselves. Of what value is social studies or literature or fine art to corporations making widgets or selling services here and abroad, especially if another semester of computer programming would benefit the employer dramatically? What is the value of that lost social studies course or fine art course to the student? Well, they don't call such courses Humanities for no reason.
It is not about Democrats and Republicans when it comes to voucher issue in 2004. It is clear that corporate interests, religious right interests, and conservative economicians support the Republican Party. These same interests desire private schools over public schools. Such a coalition does not exist in the Democratic Party. As education is and will be an issue in the upcoming 2004 elections, there is a clear choice for voters on this issue at the ballot box. Democrats, Libertarians and the Green Party oppose school vouchers. The Republican and other major third parties support vouchers either directly or by implication.