Third Party & Independents Archives

2004 Issues (Vouchers: Private vs. Public Education)

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 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.'"

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."

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 may have to 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 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?

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 prohibiting 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 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.

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 Part oppose school vouchers. The Republican and other major third parties support vouchers either directly or by implication.

Posted by David R. Remer at July 29, 2003 05:17 AM
Comments
Comment #1145

DRRemer:

“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.”

DRRemer is using the current market price of private education to project the cost of education in a future privatized market. You cannot logically do this. You have to take in to account that private schools now are luxury goods and therefore its price is not reflective of a competitive system, its inflated. Furthermore, the inability to acheive “scale” limits the amount of available profits. In a private system, school corps would be much much larger…possibly including tens of thousands of students throughout multiple campuses, reducing the per student cost. This is similar to how best-buy and target can sell electronic almost at cost. While smaller shops have to maintain 10% mark-ups.

DRRemer:

“Since, the cost of vouchers will come from property tax payers, the cost of property taxes must eventually go up.”

Most voucher people agree that vouchers should be funded from at least a state-wide level.

DRRemer:

“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.”

This is a gross over-simplification. Remer is arguing that proponents push for vouchers because they will create cheaper education. This is not true. The arguement for vouchers is that market stimuli cause the MORE EFFICIENT USE of dollars. So that per dollar spent on education, the return in terms of education gained will be greater. Therefore in the face of students transfering out of public schools, those administrators in charge will be faced with either reforming their practices in order to use their money more efficiently (raising teacher student ratios and such) or folding. In which case students will have to go else where to other schools. Also proponents of vouchers would often tolerate more money being spent on education were the system working. The problem is that for 30 years or more the public system has been in a downward spiral even though funding has increased and class sizes have fallen. The fact of the matter is that our current centralized, districted, non-market is incapable of increasing its efficiency, in fact quote the opposite. The proof lies in the lack of new suggestions on the left as to fixing the situation…

By focusing strictly on numbers DRRemer completely missed the point about efficiency and therefore completely mis-represents the Pro voucher side of the argument.


Posted by: Mike Van Winkle at July 29, 2003 03:01 PM
Comment #1163

Mike, thanks for the view from the otherside. Nice to have well thought out debate.

I believe by focusing on efficiency and economies of scale, you make the point for opponents of privatizing eduation. Note the following from AU.ORG:

Many private schools have lower operating costs only because they are subsidized by local parishes and public school districts. Taxpayers already pay for many services at private schools, which relieves those schools of significant financial obligations: transportation, textbooks, hot lunches, counseling and speech therapy, and those costs associated with educating disabled and special needs children. Under a voucher system, taxpayers will continue to pay for such services over and above the value of the voucher. In addition, public schools continue to bear the same operating expenses (and realize no savings) when select numbers of students transfer to voucher schools. In those instances, the public schools make do on less money.

And this from Norman Draper:
Public schools, which negotiate contracts with teachers unions, pay more for teachers than private schools. Sometimes much more. Minnehaha Academy’s lowest teacher salary for the 2000-01 school year was $24,256, and its highest $55,710. The lowest teacher salary at the public Valentine Hills Elementary, in Arden Hills, was $28,000, and the highest $60,506.

Your argument that competition would lead to lower costs, presumeably lower teacher salaries as well, would result in a loss of more qualified teachers to other endeavors while they are replaced with lower salaried teachers whose skills are less competitive on the open market. Even where private teacher salaries approach the same level, public school teachers benefits packages are significantly higher [ibid]. The very efficiencies you discuss would lower teacher qualifications and result in lower teaching standards than currently exist in public schools.

Posted by: DRRemer at July 29, 2003 08:14 PM
Comment #1263

This doesn’t really address the fact of whether it’s fair that parents who choose to send their kids to private schools are, in essence, paying for it twice: once in tuition, and the other in property taxes whose benefits they don’t receive. School vouchers help to address that disparity. Remember: in most cases, vouchers won’t cover the entire costs of private school education.

Another item: by your argument above, since public school teachers get paid more than private school ones, shouldn’t public schools be out-performing private schools? In that event, vouchers should be a moot point, because no one would want to send their child to an inferior private school in the first place.

No, the real villain here is the teacher’s union, which serves the interests of the teachers over the interests of the students in many cases. Eliminate the teachers union in the public schools, and I guarantee that the quality of education will go up.

Posted by: Jeff Seifert at July 31, 2003 04:13 PM
Comment #1269

Jeff, thanks for your input and inquiries.

Your point is well taken on those who send children to private school paying twice. I agree. The solution as I see it is to exempt families from property taxes 1) If they have children in school and 2) if they have no children in public school. This would result in a very small loss of revenue to the public school system plus it would not require tax payers to subsidize other families whose children do attend private school.

As for public schools producing better results from higher salaries - good quesiton btw —there are a couple of points to be considered. First, Private schools select their students and have the option, often exercised, to refuse students who would hamper the private school’s ratings. (Remember that private schools only marketing tool is successful student performance statistics) Therefore, public school teachers have more learning disadvantaged students, dyslexic, low learning capabilities, and physical/emotionally handicapped students. Private schools refuse these kinds of students. Thus, public schools required by law to take all students, have a skew attached to their performance scores, a disadvantage which, private schools do not have.

I simply can’t disagree more with your last comment. The teacher’s unions have helped to increase, to the extent they can, the salary incentive to maintain as high a standard of qualified teachers as possible. The problem is that in the U.S., the primary consumers of education, employers, do not contribute to the very education they demand from their hirees. If employers would contribute, and their are a few cases where this has occurred, performance standards and quality of education was raised. We err in this society in viewing education as a benefit derived primarily by the student. The whole of our economy and corporate - small business structure depends upon education. Yet, the contribution by corporations and small business is small at best, and often nothing through deductions and exemptions from property taxes.

Posted by: DRRemer at July 31, 2003 06:38 PM
Comment #1294

For any interested in a peek at the future of privatized education under competitive pressure to perform, this article in the NYTimes provides a public school case in point.

Posted by: DRRemer at August 1, 2003 05:46 AM
Comment #1360

DRREMER:
Your argument that competition would lead to lower costs, presumeably lower teacher salaries as well, would result in a loss of more qualified teachers to other endeavors while they are replaced with lower salaried teachers whose skills are less competitive on the open market. Even where private teacher salaries approach the same level, public school teachers benefits packages are significantly higher [ibid]. The very efficiencies you discuss would lower teacher qualifications and result in lower teaching standards than currently exist in public schools.

Actually, I would argue that the reason that private schools pay less for teachers is because those teachers often lack the “certification” necessary to teach in public schools. For instance a friend of mine is teaching at a Private School while working on his masters. He was willing to take less money because it is not a long term career choice for him..and therefore he did not want to embark upon the often absurd certification process. Secondly, often private schools are religiously affiliated (as Minnehaha Academy is), with much of the teaching staff coming from people affiliated with the sponsoring church. In this instance teachers are willing to take less pay on the basis of religious convictions.

Again I don’t think that we can use data from the current private school market which is far from “competitive” to project what a properly competitive market would look like.

I would also argue that in a properly competitive market there would actually be a higher mean teacher salary by virtue of the fact that you would probably find private school classroom with far more students than current classrooms. This allows firms to higher fewer, more qualified teachers, and higher salaries.

Posted by: Mike Van Winkle at August 3, 2003 03:08 PM
Comment #1365

Reply To Mike Van Winkle. If you read the article carefully as well as my comments here, you will find that I am in complete agreement with your line of thinking. Your debating with the wrong person, but, thanks for your reply and input. I agree wholeheartedly with your concerns over the privatizing of the American school system and your points regarding teacher salaries.

Posted by: DRRemer at August 3, 2003 06:00 PM
Comment #6293

What are the most economic reasons why public schools are about 40% less than private schools

Posted by: lolo at January 20, 2004 07:59 PM