Saturday, December 10, 2005

Why vouchers are not going to happen soon

Instapundit has a link to a well written post by Shaver Jeffries. Shaver deplores the current state of public education and its effect on black students. He argues for vouchers as a way to solve the problem. This post is partly response to Shaver’s post:

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In trying to address the problems with public education today school choice is often proposed as a solution. All most any kind of universal voucher system would greatly improve public education. Right now parents have very little influence on what happens in the classroom. With vouchers parents could move children to a school where the needs of their children were better addressed. The parents wouldn’t have to wait until some proposed change was implemented, a couple years later. Competition would prompt the schools to work harder to attract children.

However, I don't believe a good voucher system will happen, at least on a large scale, any time in the next ten years. There are too many roadblocks. For a couple decades the idea of vouchers has been pushed and attempts have been made to implement them. Why haven't they been more widely adopted?

In many discussions of public policy there are often special interest groups with a vested interest. Often farmers or businesses will approach Congress to ask for laws limiting or regulating foreign competition. There will be claims of unfair competition, or shoddy workmanship, or an appeal to protecting jobs; however, the main reasons are to protect their business and to raise their profits. When these laws are passed, the average consumer will end up paying a few cents more for the product, while the farmer or business will be able to raise their prices (or keep their prices higher than the world market's level) and thus make more money. The special interest group has a vested interest in pushing for restrictions to slow down or keep out goods and services from outside the US to be sold inside the US. It makes sense for them to organize and lobby for restrictive laws. For the rest of us it is a small enough inconvenience that we don't oppose such laws, just to save a few pennies.

This same pattern is one of the reasons vouchers are so hard to implement. There are several vested special interest groups who feel threaten by vouchers, notably teacher unions and related public school officials. The worry is if vouchers are available many of them might lose their job. So they are organized and work hard to make sure vouchers don't happen. They raise every concern they can think of to slow down, water down, or stop vouchers. Make no mistake, teacher unions are well organized and heavily committed to opposing vouchers.

What are parents to do then? One option is to try and get more involved. They can inform and teach their friends as to the advantages. Maybe over time enough parents will become a strong enough lobby that unrestricted vouchers will become available to all. Looking at the past of the voucher movement, I really can't see any major changes in the next five to ten years. Realistically parents would be leaving their children in public schools with the hope that their grandchildren might some day be able to take advantage of vouchers.

Another option is to find, or create, a good private school. Many private schools do a great job of teaching children. One of the big drawbacks to this is the parents end up paying twice for education. Once via taxes, and then again for the private school tuition. For families with limited means this is not an easy option.

The option we have chosen is to homeschool. It is relatively inexpensive. Our children are getting a great education. And it is happening today. We don't have to wait until vouchers are finally available in twenty years for our grandchildren to have a quality education.

If you are concerned about the education your children are getting, consider looking into homeschooling. A good place to get started would be to meet some homeschoolers, and their children. Attend a homeschool group. With somewhere between 2% and 3% of the children in American being homeschooled most of us know of someone who homeschools.

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Update I:

For those interested in learning more about choice in education this is a good place to start. The web site is by the Heritage Foundation and is devoted to news and reasons for vouchers and school choice.

1 comment:

phwest said...

Actually, I have a sense that home schooling has the potential to drive the various institutional groups (admin, unions) towards vouchers. If current trends continue, and given the rapidly increasing resources available to home schoolers I think they will for some time, teacher's unions may find vouchers the only way to attract students into any school.

It depends on where the tipping point is I suspect.