In this post, I will outline my reasons for opposing the use of publicly funded vouchers for private school education.
1- I am opposed to using public money to promote a religious agenda. When you look who is supporting vouchers and why, it is apparent to me that one of the driving forces behind this movement is to provide public funding to Christian or Mormon schools. Supporters may counter that not allowing vouchers means the government is funding a secular or atheistic agenda. I disagree. Nothing I ever saw in the public schools promoted atheism or secularism. I just don't buy the argument that failure to fund someone's religious agenda is by default a funding of someone else's agenda.
2- Public funding in my view requires that there be public control. Right now, I vote for members of my school board. I have influence over how they prioritize both the placements of schools as well s the curriculum used. The degree to which I or other taxpayers would have control over private schools which receive public funding is questionable and indirect. I also question whether private schools want any degree of oversight. I also question whether or not our state education establishment is prepared to develop auditing programs to ensure that private schools are following public guidelines that should be inherent in public funding.
3- Those who will gain the most immediate benefit from vouchers are those who can already afford to send their kids to private schools. Given Utah's generally regressive tax structure, how can you justify giving out a payout from public funds to those in the highest income brackets from middle to low-income taxpayers? Frankly, you can't.
4- Vouchers will generally only provide people with considerable funds available to consider private schooling as an option. For those in lower income situations, the voucher will never be enough to provide a true choice to send their kids to private schools.
5- Competition between private and public schools is over-rated and has many drawbacks to the public objective of having a well-educated citizenry. Private schools will have several advantages in this "competition" that very well may undermine public education as a whole. Private schools can deny kids on the basis of academics, whereas public schools cannot. Would private schools be required to accept kids with disabilities such as mild autism, ADHD, or kids with other problems? What will this mean for public funding for kids with various disabilities? If public schools find themselves losing the competition, what options will be available to them to make up the difference? Private schools can go to the capital markets to obtain new resources. What if legislators are unwilling to fund the needs of public schools in order to allow them to be competitive?
6- On what basis would a voucher be denied to students who enroll in a school. Example, let's say an Islamic fundamentalist group establishes a private school for their children to teach them jihad against the west, weapons and explosives training, and terrorist tactics? Without proper overshights, have we as a country just funded our own demise?
7- I find it interesting that so many Utahns who find socialism in every government program, fail to see it when there becomes public funding of private enterprise. I think we as a society should always be cautious about providing public funding for private businesses. Competition between the private and public sectors can have good results. FEDEX, UPS and other delivery companies directly compete with the United States Postal Service. However, public funding is not, and should not, be used to fund UPS or FEDEX. The same is true for private schools.
8- Why should public funds go to a private school that may in fact be discriminatory? Getting back to religious schools, is it reasonable to assume that a Mormon school would require some sort of approval process in order for a student to matriculate there? Same with a Christian, Muslim or Jewish school. What if a Christian school right accross the street from an atheist denies a child's application on the basis of the child's parents outspoken belief that Christianity is bogus?
9- My final concern deals with the social consequences of dividing ourselves on the basis of one critieria or another. If Christians only deal with Christians, Mormons with Mormons, the rich with the rich, will we be able to empathize and appreciate others. Public schools bring together a cross-section of kids and place them together. If someone wants to exclude their kids from association with the wider world, that is their prerogative, but I don't believe that exclusion should be publicly funded.
10- Because I believe the most important priority we as a society should be making is ensuring we have as high a quality education as possible that is available to everyone. I believe vouchers have more of a down-side to this objective and it takes away the focus all of us should have on making public schools better. To me it is a punt on second down when we should be devising the right play and the right execution, we are kicking the ball to the opposition and hoping they do something with it.