December 17, 2010

Education Vouchers and So-called Private Schools: What's at Stake and What's the Solution?

New Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott is catching some heat for his suggestion that all Florida children receive vouchers which can be redeemed at public or private schools.  The plan is controversial because a mass exodus from public schools is feared were the government to give vouchers for students to attend schools of their parents choice, be they public or private.  The vouchers are expected to be worth $5,500 dollars, which is the amount it costs to educate a pupil in the state education system.   

At issue here is whether private schools ought to honor government vouchers.  I champion the view that they should not.  "Why?" you ask.  Good question.  Once private schools begin to accept government funding in any form, even vouchers, then they are basically ceasing to be private schools.  Seldom does the government pass out cash with no strings attached.  The recent government bailout of General Motors and the subsequent executive branch canning of that company's CEO make that point with clarity.  It's not hard to imagine the government putting educational and ideological stipulations on which so-called private schools can receive funding in the form of school vouchers.  Imagine this scenario:  Let's say a private school begins honoring government vouchers.  A couple of years later and after some law suits over the use of public funds to pay for private education, the government implements stipulations about what curriculum can be used in private schools if they want to keep the cash flow coming in the form of vouchers.  By this time, the school has increased its enrollment and hired on a lot of new teachers.  What do they do?  Decrease enrollment and lay off a bunch of teachers when they can't afford to pay them because they don't have the government funds?  Or just keep on taking the cash and adjust the curriculum (and eventually everything else) in line with government regulations?  Obviously, most will keep taking the cash.  And now the government is calling the shots in the private schools.  And the private schools aren't really private any more.  So, should private schools accept government vouchers?  Not if they want to stay private. 

What is the solution then?  I propose that instead of vouchers, states that truly desire to grant to parents the freedom to choose the way their children are educated should allow a tax credit to those families who elect to use private education.  This tax credit could be set to the tune of what it costs to educate a child in whatever state is in question, $5,500 in Florida.  This would free up money for children to attend private schools and avoid the problem of government checks being written to private schools.  Of course, the problem with this plan in Florida is that there are no state income taxes.  In this case, the government could just cut families who opt out of public education the $5,500 check.  I certainly don't expect to see this plan in legislation any time soon.  It's way too conservative; way too small government; way too hands-off my kids and their education.  It would, however, provide for a truly free parental choice in the education of their children, which is what Governor-elect Scott claims to advocating.  It would also guarantee that private schools stay private, which is very important. 

1 comment:

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