School vouchers do not equal school choice

Over the last week, I’ve seen a lot more support coming out for school vouchers under The Choices in Education Act (H.R. 610). A common thread in discussions I’ve had on facebook is, “So you object to something you are afraid will happen?” No, not really. This isn’t a hypothetical. It isn’t just “a foot in the door” or a “slippery slope.” It is simply what will happen . . . what is happening . . . what has happened. Only instead of applying solely to private schools accpeting vouchers, it will extend to homeschools as well.

school vouchers do not equal school choice

School vouchers do not equal school choice.

Issues in Education, a conservative Christian radio program discussing issues in education (as the title might suggest) ran a two part series supporting vouchers. (I heard the re-airing Sunday). They come out in strong support, quoting Milton Friedman,

“Choice doesn’t take money from public schools but gives the money to schools that teach the kids.”

And claiming that these vouchers will help parents get their children out of poor performing public schools and into private schools which do a better job of education at a lower cost. They see it as an opportunity to not only stop Christians from having to pay for a secular institution, but as an opportunity to take state money to evangelize secular youth.

But we now have 14 states plus the Disctrict of Columbia with a voucher system in place. Issues in Education highlights Nevada as the first state to give universal free choice to all students. Which isn’t even true. I think they mean that Nevada is the first state to make vouchers available to all students, but tax money is not the same as choice. The choice was there before, the only difference was the funding.

With state funding comes state control.

Even in Nevada. At the moment, Nevada’s regulations are pretty light. But the State Supreme Court ruling which (at least temporarily) blocked the implementation of the voucher system specifically states,

“We recognize the ESA program imposes conditions on the parents’ use of the funds in their account and also provides State oversight of the education savings accounts to ensure those conditions are met.” Nevada Homeschool Network

And like I said, Nevada’s requirements were light. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states with voucher systems in place have accountability measures in place.

Accountability policies that oversee the performance of private school choice programs primarily focus on setting standards private schools must meet in order to accept participating students. Additionally, states may choose to collect and evaluate performance data on students participating in a school choice program. While every state with a private school choice program enforces some level of accountability, states vary widely in what they require from private schools.

Setting standards, standardized testing, collecting data. The exact same things we have been fighting from the beginning. But now because federal legislation mentions “homeschooling” in relation to vouchers, it will draw us under the same accountability umbrella.

The government does not have a monopoly on education. Yet.

Another conservative, Christian homeschool advocate, Mimi Rothschild, also favors vouchers. Enough to start collecting signatures for a petition on Change.org. After a brief description of what vouchers are and how America’s schools are failing, she writes,

“HB 610 effectively breaks up the governments monopoly on education. Monopolies are bad for everyone because when you only have one choice, there is no incentive for that provider to earn your business by building a better, cheaper product or service. Subject to the principles of free enterprise, schools will improve because they will be incentivized and rewarded when they offer a better school.  Schools who fail our children will die as they should. Schools who provide a great education will grow and compete for our business. America wins.”

But the government does not have a monopoly on education. We have private schools in every state. We have the right to homeschool in every state. We have public schools in every state. We already have choice in education in every state. This bill does nothing to expand our choices, protect our rights or expand our liberties.

Like Issues in Education, I believe Mrs. Rothschild is conflating government money with private choice.

Distributing government money not only allows but requires accountability measures to be put into place to guarantee that tax dollars are being spent in accordance with the educational goals of the state. Vice President Mike Pence worked hard on the voucher program for Indiana. Now all private schools receiving voucher money are required to administer the state assessment and are graded according to the state’s school grading system. 

Assessment shapes teaching. And bringing all schools, whether public, private or homeschools, under one test is a monopoly. A monopoly that will be aided by vouchers.

Not to mention the fact that Indiana homeschoolers currently do not even have to report their decision to homeschool to the state. That level of independence is not possible if school vouchers include homeschools.

She is right that the two most powerful education lobbies oppose vouchers. But she ignores the fact that HSLDA, the most powerful lobby in favor of homeschooling, also opposes these vouchers.

Taxes should be about raising revenue, not influencing behavior.

When I read the arguments in favor of vouchers for homeschoolers, I realize I may have a fundamentally different view of government than even many of my fellow Christian conservatives. I keep reading,

“But it’s my money. There’s nothing wrong with getting some of it back.”

But it isn’t mine. Not once it’s withheld. Then it becomes “our” money. Nebraska’s money. America’s money. It is there to do things like defend the nation from attack, build roads and catch criminals. We can debate what exactly falls under “the common good,” but that money is supposed to serve our common interests, not mine personally.

And really, if the government viewed it as my money, why would they take it to begin with? Why are we discussing vouchers and not lowering taxes? Why are we discussing vouchers and not expanding the child tax credit? What sense does it make to take my money just to give a percentage of it back to me?

Because it is about control. Even if the control is minimal, the state wants to make sure I spend it on “appropriate educational expenses.” But why should they decide whether my family is in greater need of a new curriculum or new clothes? In any decent family, an increase in income will result in better conditions for the children. And where that isn’t the case? Well, no amount of government regulation on the direction the money goes is going to help.

What can we do?

Call your representative. Outline your concerns and ask that homeschooling be dropped from the legislation.

Contact Issues in Education or other conservative programs you hear in suppport of school vouchers. They clearly want to increase choice in education, but I don’t think they have looked closely at what has happened to other institutions that started receiving government money.

Stay in the conversation. Discuss the issue on forums and social media. Share posts with good information. Let people know that there is more to school vouchers than just “school choice.”

2 thoughts on “School vouchers do not equal school choice

  1. Peter says:

    Bush W. took TAAS from the state level to the national level through NCLB. Obama gave us Common-core. Now Trump wittingly, or unwittingly, is furthering the ‘Federalization’ of education through ‘vouchers.’ Why are we allowing this to happen? Well, a simple answer is that money talks and if I can get me a little regardless of how, the ethics of it, or the consequences, I’m gonna do it. That personal debt I’ve incurred by my choices has to be paid somehow and who cares if the government takes ten dollars so I can receive a paltry forty cents back through their feigned benevolence. It’s the same mentality that gave us ‘nationalized healthcare,’ believing we can get something better for ‘free.’ All the while government bureaucrats and bureaucracy are gleefully rubbing their hands further entrenched, enriched, and empowered over our everyday lives!

    • Dana says:

      Yes, they love to complain about “big government” yet it is the Republicans who consistently push for the centralization of our education. If anything needs to be free from federal control, it is the minds of children!

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