A Superintendent Writes… But By Any Other Name

A LYS Superintendent submits the following:

Vouchers and the expansion of charter schools are at the forefront of the legislative session.  I have no serious issue with charters, other than the fact they don’t compete on an even playing field with traditional public schools.  This has been addressed by others who have written to the blog so I won’t linger too long on them.  However, I do like Cain’s general statement about charter schools, “If small school districts are inefficient, why does the State insist on creating more charter schools, which for the most part are also small?  If small is bad for traditional public schools, should it not be bad for charter schools too?”  

I promise that is all I will say about charter schools in this blog.  I will now discuss vouchers.

Vouchers are obviously intended to benefit parents who choose to educate their children in private schools or parochial schools.  The “let the money follow the child” argument is bogus, because the money already does follow the child in every Texas public school, including charter schools.  Vouchers then amount to nothing more than tax credits.  Since some parents have “waived” their public education option, they don’t feel that they should have to pay school property tax AND the private school tuition.  This is not a new argument in this country as it was discussed in the 17th and 18th century, and apparently now in the 21st century.  Of course we don’t call vouchers a tax credit for waiving participation in public schools, we hide behind the phrase “school choice”, but by any other name…

Having established that “voucher driven school choice” is the same thing as a tax credit for waived public services, one has to wonder where that argument ends.  What if I sign a waiver promising never to use hospitals, police, or fire protection?  Can I get a tax credit for those services too?  On the national level, if I sign a waiver disavowing Social Security and other federal entitlements, can I get a tax credit for that too?  Once this thinking takes root, where does it end?  Which government services are we “allowed” to waive and which ones are mandated?  Is school the only government service we can waive?  What about prisons?  I don’t use prisons, I have never been to prison, and no one has ever been in prison due to committing a crime against me.  Shouldn’t I get a tax credit (voucher) for that too?   This goes to the old truth of libertarians that is at the heart of the Tea Party: Libertarians offer a beautiful and somewhat accurate criticism of government without offering any viable model of governance.

Let’s discuss some other aspects of vouchers and school choice.  Why do parents send their children to private or parochial schools?  I am convinced that Cain is once again correct, “Parents are choosing their peer groups.”  Although that is well said, I have an alternate phrase for “choosing their peer groups;” it is called “separate but equal.” School choice and the vouchers that drive school choice is nothing more than a step back to “separate but equal.”  Again, by any other name… What the State of Texas cannot do legally, the state intends to do by putting the onus (choice) onto the parent.  It is a beautiful side step around well-established law.  

Finally, we need to discuss home schools.  In the State of Texas home school laws are considered very strong.  In fact, as I recall Texas has ruled home schooled children are the equivalent of, you guessed it, private schools attendees.  As such, TEA and districts have little or no authority in this area.  Of course this has not presented a problem, but then again there has never been a financial incentive for being home schooled.  Think about it, if every parent gets a voucher for their children, what is to prevent them from withdrawing their children from public schools, “home schooling” the children, and pocketing the money?  The answer is, absolutely nothing.   Not without changing the laws regarding home schools, that is.  Of course we can always tell home school parents they MUST enroll in either a public school or an “approved” private school, but what kind of “school choice” is that, not to mention the problem of equal protection under the law.  I am not thinking of a theoretical problem.  I have seen plenty of child abuse and neglect over the years, and I can assure you that if I can think of such a voucher scam, there will some parents who figure it out quickly.  With four or five children, this can turn into a profitable venture.  Of course we can always regulate and monitor home schools more (beware legitimate home school parents, Leviathan awakens) or we can accept the fact that a certain amount of educational neglect and abuse will happen due to the fact that we chose to give incentives for pursuing private education.  That option of acceptance of the neglect and abuse certainly does not sound like the moral high ground Republicans are fond of seizing, or we can choose to monitor the situation but that sounds like more regulation and bureaucracy (read: not efficient, and certainly not consistent with libertarian thinking).

So there are my initial thoughts on vouchers and tax credits, aka school choice.  Call this what you want, put any spin on it you want, but it stinks, by any other name.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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