School Vouchers Essay, Research Paper
English 1200, 009
December 6, 2000
The American people have a decline of confidence in the educational institutions in America. This has lead to theories behind how to improve the public schools’ situation. The most recent argument has been over school vouchers, which allow students to use a determined sum of taxpayers’ money to help in the tuition costs of private schools. This use of public funds for private education should not be allowed because it would discriminate against students who would be going to private schools for economic, political and social reasons. It will segregate the classes even more than they are today because in order for a voucher to be helpful to a family, they must have a substantial amount of money to begin with, resulting in a stratified society. Primarily however, school vouchers are a violation of the national constitution and most state constitutions.
Of course there are those who strongly support school vouchers. In many cases, the middle class is drawn to the idea because for a small amount of more money annually, one’s child may attend an institution of choice for the opportunity to receive a higher level of education in a private school. The thought is that with a private school education, a child can get into better colleges or universities allowing the possibility of escaping poverty a reality. The problem with this ideal is that very few of the middle class population can make up the tuition difference that is not covered by vouchers for a private school education, making the possibility for the impoverished families nearly impossible. Though a family may be able to make sacrifices to have the extra money for tuition alone; books, uniforms, transportation and extracurricular costs are not included. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone other than the upper classes to reap the benefits of a voucher system, and the upper class society are the section of the population that do not need the voucher because if they chose to, their children are already being educated by private institutions (House 19).
School vouchers would allow students to go to the school of their choice. This would allow competition between the schools for students and their parents’ money. The idea that schools would be more accountable for their students’ and their needs, is much like a business is responsible to oblige its customers (House 22). However, this competition is alive today in public schools, if not encouraged by the school officials themselves, by demand of the state. In everything from academic testing, to sports competitions and extracurricular activities, such as international and national competitions as Odyssey of the Mind and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, public schools have a mean of keeping their students up to par in the educational race.
An aspect of school vouchers that would not only prove beneficial for the students but also the schools is the increase in parent participation. If a parent is spending thousands more a year to supplement their child’s education, they will be more likely to be involved with the school. The parents will want to make sure the conditions of the school are up to their personal desires as well as wanting to make sure their student is performing up to standard (Lieberman 1993, 162).
Vouchers may have the possible good aspects, however, the negative aspects strongly outweigh the good. Students will be discriminated against based on race, academic achievement and economic background. Private schools have the right to filter their students and it is their right as a private institution of education. Sadly, this right may not allow Afro-American, Hispanic, Asian or other children to attend a desired school based on their ethnic background, or even gender in some cases. Private schools will also avoid the acceptance of low achievers in order to keep the reputation of the school up (Lieberman 1989, 153). The high achieving minority students, and all high achievers for that matter, would most likely do all they could to use the vouchers to go to the private schools. This would remove the role models out of the public schools for the minorities or even all other students who stay in the public school system (Lieberman 1989, 156). Private schools would most likely do all they could to prevent undesirable students from attending their school. One of the most effective ways would be to raise the tuition so high that the school vouchers would ultimately be useless because the aid would be so slight compared to the total cost of the school (Lieberman 1989, 153).
The segregation of who can afford private education and who cannot will result in a stratified society. The middle class will be eliminated because the population in this category will either be able to afford the private education somehow, receiving a higher education, getting the better job and passing the wealth and status to their children. The rest of the middle class will end up in the impoverished situation because the public schools will be drained of all funds and resources making a decent education hard to come by. The likely hood of receiving a decent job, if a job at all after public school education if the voucher is implemented will make the lower class virtually unavailable to social mobilization. Does American really want a stratified society where it’s members either have all or nothing?
The most viable argument against school vouchers, regardless if your position is for or against them is that they undermined religious liberty (Doerr 17). School vouchers would allow public funds to go towards religious private schools, the most common private institution. The separation of church and state is a national value written in the First Amendment of the Constitution and almost all state constitutions have a similar law written (Doerr 19). For example, in the Alabama state constitution, Article XIV, paragraph 263, states that, “No money raised for the support of the public school shall be appropriated for the support of any sectarian or denominational school” (Doerr 45) and North Dakota’s state constitution says almost the identical, word for word (Doerr 47). Michigan states in Article VIII, Section 2, of their constitution that, “No payment, tax credit, tax benefit, exemption or deduction, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student…where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students” (Doerr 46). These states are just a small example of the states that strongly oppose the use of public funds for private use. In fact, Thomas Jefferson’s Bill for establishing religious freedom of 1785 states, “That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he believes and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” (Doerr 19).
Vouchers cost too much for the purpose they would serve. They are supposed to reduce the cost of education for those who cannot afford private education. However, the cost of transporting these students to their desired school would be astronomical. The difference in transportation costs of local, public education verses a choice school would either have to be paid by the individual family, which would not be feasible by anyone but the upper class, or paid by the government who would be better managing the money that is going into public schools, than spending money on transportation for private schools. In the 1990-91 school year, 57 percent of all public school students that were transported to school cost over nine billion dollars nationwide. This may sound reasonable but the 1992 Carnegie Foundation report shows that 47 percent of those students lived less than two miles away from the school they were attending, while only ten percent lived more than ten miles away (Doerr 84). The majority of students who attend private schools live further than ten miles away from the school. The difference in cost for voucher students would obviously prove to be grand. For example, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the average annual cost of transporting a student is 120 dollars, while non-neighborhood, choice students raise the bill to 320 dollars annually (Doerr 86). The means for getting these students to school if they rely on the system may include anything from school or city buses, to taxi cabs. In fact, in Kansas City, Missouri, the city was known to have used up to 400 taxicabs a day to transport voucher students to and from school (Doerr 85).
Private schools who would participate in the voucher policy would virtually eliminate the private school characteristics parents choose the school for (Lieberman 1993, 7). Private schools would be excluded from teaching religion (Lieberman 1993, 7) and with Catholic schools being the most rapidly growing private school (Lieberman 1989, 157), the voucher would prove helpless because the schools that would have their rights taken away as a private school would not want to participate. Edd Doerr says that private schools’ reason for being is to, “protect their youth from the diversity of contemporary American society,” in context with some of the text that is used to teach in private schools (67). However, that is the right of a private school with private funds coming in to support the school. The fact the parents can send their child to a school with students and faculty with similar values and beliefs (Lieberman 1989, 157) may be unrealistic but it is not the government’s place to decide what is right and wrong in a private institution of education. The need to separate the government from interacting with private institutions, while they are still private, is impossible, making the voucher policy futile.
Everything else aside, people do not want school vouchers for the obvious negative reasons. Beginning in 1966, a proposal for school vouchers has been out before voters, and 19 out of 20 times, the people have said no (Doerr 27). The Gallup Organization and the Phi Delta Kappa educators’ fraternity independently conduct most polls regarding vouchers (Doerr 31). One poll question asked, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.” In 1993, the poll returned with 55 percent opposed, 45 percent in favor, while in 1995, the results were 65 percent opposed, 33 percent in favor (Doerr 32). The significant increase in opposition to vouchers can be attributed to the increase in knowledge of what they are and the potential damage they could do to the public and private schools, level of education, personal rights and the economy.
If vouchers are not the answer to the insufficient educational system in America, what is?