Monday, December 12, 2011

The Savings of Freedom in Public Education

One of the more common complaints of people opposing vouchers is that the use of vouchers will drain money away from public education. From a factual standpoint, this complaint has no merit unless you accept the premise that “public education” must take place at public schools. If not, then it becomes apparent that the use of vouchers neither adds nor subtracts from the money used except in the case where vouchers are issued at a lower value than that sent to schools on a per pupil basis, in which case there is a net savings. (I have never read or heard of a case where a voucher system was approved funded at a larger rate, with the possible exception of vouchers for special needs children.)

There can be an argument made that vouchers take money away from public schools, but does the argument hold up when all factors are considered? Funds are lost from the public school that would have been allotted had the child attended. That much is certain. What is seldom examined is the potential cost reductions that would come with a fully funded voucher system, and how those reductions might affect the school district’s bottom line as far as cash available. There are any number of areas that might see cost reductions, from staff cuts to lowered bus maintenance required, but this time of year in particular brings to mind a particularly distasteful cost.

Any web search at this time of year will bring up a number of cases where schools and townships are accused of religious discrimination, whether for something the school permits or something it denies. Regardless of the merit of such cases, money is lost from the school’s primary purpose, that of education, to deal with the complaints. If a lawsuit is filed, direct legal costs will ensue even if the case is eventually settled out of court. If the case does make it to court, the costs will increase. And, due to the nature of such litigation, if the school loses the case it will likely have to pay legal costs for itself and the persons filing the complaint. Should the school win, it is more than likely that it will still be liable for it’s own legal fees. In a system where the majority of principals have reported that they have had lawsuits filed against their schools at least once, the costs run high and do nothing to contribute to the education of students.

While lawsuits on religious discrimination and freedom of speech draw great attention, they are by no means the only reasons that school lawsuits are filed. Across the nation right schools schools are suing and being sued for such causes as improved funding, bullying, inadequate teaching, unsafe environments, and discipline practices. Even schools that are not sued spend large amounts of money and time documenting procedures and actions as a defense against possible litigation.

A well instituted voucher system will not put every student in an ideal school, but it will allow for the elimination of many types of lawsuit against the district before they even begin. Don’t want God mentioned in the curriculum? Fine. Stick with the government schools. On the other hand, if you want your child brought up learning not only writing and math (or perhaps really learning writing and math), but also the history and practice of Christianity or Judaism or Islam or most anything else, you have the chance. If the demand is there, the market will not ignore it. If you would rather your child didn’t spend time learning to put condoms on cucumbers or getting yanked out of class to provide stage props at the latest union rally, you can arrange it. If you would rather have your child get a swap on the rear rather than attend a week long sensitivity class for making an improper remark, you might be able to do that to. If you value great books, history, and art above great political sloganeering, this could be your chance. Not through lawyers and courts and months of unsatisfying litigation, but by banding together with parents and negotiating with schools, schools that would now be dependent on your good will to survive.

At the same time, while the school would be dependent on the students and parents, it would have to consider the needs and desires of all of the students and parents. Since the attendance at any particular school would be voluntary and subject to the agreement of the schools and the families, no single voice could drown out the others. Since the terms of attendance and discipline would be contracted, civil rights lawsuits could largely be eliminated. When they did occur, the expense would be the responsibility of the litigants, not the city, county, or state.

It is a continuing amazement to me that for all of the trumpeting that “diversity” receives, most of the professional educators still cling to a “one-size-fits-all” model of public schooling. I can understand it to an extent. Teacher’s unions (another huge drain on education dollars) have spent large amounts of cash, often taken against the will of their members, convincing people that school choice would be the end of public education as we know it. In reality, it has the chance to be the end of what public education has become and the beginning of something a great deal better.

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