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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why School Vouchers will Fail in Pennsylvania

The primary motivation, the thrust of all statistical evidence, for SB-1 is to reduce educational costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers. 

This becomes problematic when children of private schools, which receive few benefits from the public school system, would also receive these funds.  In many scenarios throughout the years, such as with Ridge's bill many years ago, only private school enrollments would have been affected.  There is no direct cost-savings in these scenarios.

A school district is much like an aircraft carrier in the sense that you can't fund "just half of it" and expect it to work.  Withdrawing funds to send 500 kids to private/parochial schools would certainly sink school districts, but not before desperate attempts to raise property taxes through the roof.

But I have never seen it this way.  The failures of our educational system have nothing to do with the cost.  This should be obvious as we've been greatly increasing funding for public schools over the decades.. to no effect.  Cutting costs too would have little or no positive impact on education.

So either you're just pissed about government spending, or you actually want an alternative to our public schooling system, one that would work better than what we have today.

If we can curb our irrational hatred of "teachers" for just one moment, we can look at the public schooling system as a failed model of social welfare.  A parallel to state farms, state housing, state stores and state health care eludes to a structural failure of central planning versus their free-market, direct-subsidy alternatives.

Consider that a voucher for $3,000 is a pointless gesture to the majority of parents in PA.  At most, it is only a supplement to people already outside the public school system.  It doesn't resolve the core failures (and costs) of our present system.

It is no wonder that "vouchers" have been embraced by the social conservatives in the Republican party who finally get to throw some pork to their constituents.  A few thousand dollars is a nice bonus to parents struggling to send their kids to private school for their own religious reasons.

But I don't care about any of that.  The real issue is the model of public education that we want to embrace.  Some say "zero" public education-- no funding for anything.  I say great, go out and sell that idea to somebody.

The simple argument:  to divide the costs of education into the number of students affected, and send the money down directly to ALL kids.  Keep the teacher licensing idea and let ANY teacher reimburse the voucher.  Let teachers be free to teach as professionals, like medical doctors do now.  Free market delivery of public education would be responsive to the people.

This argument isn't being made, at least not directly.  Sure, it might happen in rhetoric and in passing discussion, but it is never part of the hard political initiatives coming out of Harrisburg.  Win or lose on SB-1, the moral failure of conservatism on this issue will kill the idea of vouchers.

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