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Sunday, July 20, 2008

School Vouchers: When Special Interests Trump Partisanship

Steve Chapman has a nice piece taking Barack Obama to task for not supporting school vouchers.

That something is to facilitate greater parental choice in education. McCain wants to expand a Washington, D.C. program that provides federally funded scholarships so poor students can attend private schools. More than 7,000 kids, he reported, have applied for these vouchers, but only 1,900 can be accommodated.

Obama promptly expressed disdain for McCain's proposal. The Republican, his campaign said, offered "recycled bromides" that would "undermine our public schools."

You would think a leader who plans to liberate us from the partisan dogmas of the past would be open to this approach -- and in February, Obama indicated he was. "If there was any argument for vouchers, it was, 'Let's see if the experiment works,'" he said. "And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what's best for the kids."

The whole issue of school vouchers is an interesting one. On most levels, one would think that the positions of the parties should be reversed. After all, school vouchers is yet another government spending program to give poor folks free money to subsidize their lifestyles.

This seems like something that conservatives would oppose and most bleeding heart liberals would support any government hand out. Yet, the exact opposite is true. I personally support school vouchers because I believe that any answer to eduation reform must be embedded in choice. That's exactly what vouchers provide. They provide parents with more choice. Choice brings competition and competition brings accountability. The more educational options each parents have: be it charter schools, home schooling, public schools, or private schools... the better.

That in fact is how John McCain sees it. He wants to expand the D.C. program to provide low income parents with vouchers that they can use to send their kids to private schools. Obama sees it differently.

Of course, any astute follower of politics knows exactly why Obama opposes vouchers. If ever there was an issue that proved that Barack Obama is anything but the atypical politician it is school vouchers. That's because on this issue even his own natural ideology is trumped by something even more powerful...special interests. The group most vociferously opposed to school vouchers is the teacher's union.

The problem is that their opposition is rooted entirely in self interest not public good. The teacher's unions oppose vouchers not because they think they won't work, but in fact, because they think they will. That's because most schools outside the public school system employ teachers outside the union. If school vouchers are successful then more and more kids will go to schools that employ teachers that aren't a part of the teacher's union. That's why the teacher's union opposes vouchers. Barack Obama, by extension, (along with Democrats in general) opposes vouchers because he takes his marching orders from the teacher's union.

Obama is fond of saying that he wants to do what works. Of course, on this issue at least, that is total nonsense. He will do whatever his main special interest group tells him to do. Just don't tell me he is somehow different.


Gail said...

I did a bit of research into private schools and found that private schools spend only slightly more on educating each child than public schools.

Internet schools are the very best option, if the student is sufficiently self disciplined, as they cost dramatically less. In fact, where public schools offer on-line courses to out-of-state students, their prices are significantly higher than private internet schools.

More information and statistics on private schools would really help clarify the pros and cons of school vouchers. It would be really highlight the vast sums of money that the public school system squanders while still failing to achieve the same results of private schools which sometimes have less funding.

My two older children attended a small private church school, even though we were not members of that church, and the cost of education plus after school care, and full-time daycare for my yountest who was not yet in school, was dramatically less than the public school expenditure. And, they learned to read better and faster than my youngest who was by then in public schools in Texas. In fact, I had to send him to a private school for a year simply to learn to read properly.

Best regards,
Gail S

mike volpe said...

The irony is if you own a home, not so much a condo, but a home, that public school education is really for an intents and purposes not so free. That big property tax payment you make is going almost exclusively to fund the public school in your area. When you figure out your property taxes, that free education is usually more expensive than a private school.

Of course, there is no way your area would let you not pay your taxes if in fact you sent your child to a private school.