August 22, 2011
Vouchers and the Law
The timing of a recent lawsuit by the Indiana State Teacher’s Association against Indiana’s school voucher program perfectly demonstrates the calculated disregard for the welfare of students and taxpayers that has come to define this teachers union. The good news is that the courts saw through the suit and refused to stop some 2,200 poor kids from around the state taking advantage of a program that ultimately benefits Hoosiers.
Public schooling, especially in urban areas of Indiana, is very expensive and broadly quite poor. Private schools, both religious and secular, are less costly and typically effective. However, taxpayers are the ones who support public schools, so the out-of-pocket costs of private schools are unaffordable for most poor and working class families. So it is primarily middle- and upper-income households who send their kids to private schools. It is ironic that we give our poor children almost everything they need to escape poverty, except only thing that matters—a good education. Vouchers provide this opportunity.
Indiana’s voucher program offers up to $4,500 in tuition for private schools to low-income families that have experienced public schools and found them wanting. This year 2,200 kids applied—the biggest chunk coming from the torpid Indianapolis Public School system.
The program is simple enough, but what is fomenting a lawsuit of nefarious timing? Those of us concerned with the separation of church and state might well worry about public dollars flowing to parochial schools. It certainly gave me pause, until I remembered some 65 years of the G.I. Bill doing the same. Poor education is a far greater threat to our U.S. Constitution—even so, this position is the strongest of the feeble arguments against vouchers.
Vouchers do not reduce funding for education. In fact, the $4,500 maximum price tag saves the state a minimum of $6 million and perhaps twice that amount. That is not a lot of money (it is only about $1000 for each IPS student who did not bother showing up for the first day of classes), but it is unambiguously taxpayer savings.
To be sure, some schools will lose funding because students will flee from them, but that is hardly a cause for concern. Schools that enjoy a monopoly but still cannot retain students ought to face declining budgets and perhaps close. That these schools do not do so now is part and parcel of our educational problem.
Ironically, the voucher system is not designed to do great things on its own. While it offers educational choice to low-income parents, that was not the point. The real purpose of vouchers was to add incentives for public schools to improve. The school voucher system is part of legislation designed to awaken a public school system that—though chock full of talented and caring teachers—continues to fail a large number of students.
Vouchers pressure schools to perform. They are to be celebrated, even as we must now consider ways to make school districts and families more accountable for their part in fixing education.
About the Author
Educational Attainment, the 21st Century Fund and the Future of SchoolingIndiana ranks 42nd in educational attainment.
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