Ottolenghi of Worthington, OH asks:
The supporters of vouchers would like to have public money without
public political control. Presently with the public schools all,
including parents who send their children to private schools and
individuals without children in school have an input through the
electoral system on how money is spent. Under the voucher program
as proposed by many, only parents would have a say. With my money,
no thanks. Please comment.
You're wrong twice. Voters would have plenty of say under any
publicly funded voucher system about the "rules" by which the
system operates. It would have to be enacted and funded by legislatures,
governors, etc. Moreover, you grossly exaggerate the degree to
which the public influences how public school dollars are spent
today. Many school boards today are controlled by special interests.
With extremely low voter turnout in school board elections, and
virtually no input from parents and community members, school
boards, unions, and other "producer" groups can well do whatever
they like. Many local school boards, especially in large urban
areas, make decisions that go directly against the "public interest."
Vouchers for poor kids empower parents to challenge the system
that has ill- served them for so long. The point of giving scholarships
or vouchers to poor kids is both to get those kids a better education
and to force school systems to start acting in the best interests
of their clients. Large public sector bureaucracies (a category
that includes many public school systems) don't improve because
they want to, they improve because they have to.
Eventually, a system based on the charter school model could
be implemented whereby parents could choose any school in their
state--and the schools would be essentially self-governing--but
those schools would be held accountable by public authorities
for the results they produce. The public would have a say in the
standards by which the schools are judged, but not in the details
of how individual schools are run. This mixes the best in democratic
accountability with the crucial autonomy that makes many private
schools so successful.
It is hard to imagine a voucher system with public funding emerging
without considerable regulation attached to it. Think about the
questions that would have to be addressed: Who is eligible to
receive a voucher? How much support would individuals receive?
Would the amount vary with the financial need of different families?
With the education needs of individual students? What schools
would be eligible to receive vouchers? Religious schools? Value-based
schools? Could schools teach any curriculum or would there be
requirements? Would schools have to certified and accredited?
Maintain certain standards? Are schools allowed to charge fees
above the voucher? Can schools be selective? All these questions,
and no doubt more, would have to be addressed by public authorities
and thereby provide openings for public input. In fact, one of
the arguments against vouchers is that the regulatory costs would
be so high that any benefits associated with innovation and efficiency
might be lost. Many voucher proponents would like to see the type
of voucher system that you fear, but I think it is unlikely to
emerge with public monies involved.