All Commentary
Tuesday, August 1, 1995

Vouchers: Competition or Conformity?

Voucher-Supported Schools Will Expand the Reach of Government Education

Miss Erdmann is a freshman at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

The public is aware of the problems plaguing the public schools, and increasingly it has little faith that the system will improve. In fact, in a 1992 Gallup poll, people were asked to assign a letter grade to the public school system as a whole, and only two percent responded with an “A” grade, while 20 percent of those polled gave the system a failing grade. Over 80 percent were dissatisfied.1 Public school teachers in California are twice as likely as the general public to put their children into private schooling. Apparently many teachers do not even believe in the system that employs them.

One widely held belief is that crumbling foundations of public education could be rebuilt if competition were introduced. Public schools would be spurred into action to attract students. Thus, in theory, improvements would be made.

In the free market, where competition thrives, producers try to offer consumers the best possible product at the lowest possible price. Thus, the consumers choose from among the best products. Conversely, in controlled economies, the government regulates the production process to the point that producers cannot make the products desired by consumers. Since consumers have no choice as to what to buy in a monopoly, they have to settle for mediocre products, and thus the producer has no incentive to improve his products. This is precisely the condition of the public school system. It is mediocre, and subservient to state control.

One of the most widely cited schemes to increase competition within the public schools is the voucher system. The voucher system would refund to parents part of the money used in their child’s education. Parents would be able to put this money toward a private education for their child, or possibly even toward education in a different public school. A 1991 survey conducted by Survey Research Center at the University of Akron indicated that, if given the choice, at least 50 percent of public school students would transfer to alternative schools.

Though this voucher arrangement may sound profitable for the non-public schools, it would, in fact, be devastating. All of the evils of the current public system would simply be transferred to the private schools.

The students associated with crime, drugs, and poor grades would most likely be the first to migrate to the private schools because their parents would undoubtedly blame the public system for their children’s lack of success. If, indeed, the voucher system were implemented, public officials would surely demand a strong guarantee of open admissions in the private schools to protect the rights of everyone. Therefore, private and non-public schools would be forced to reflect the community they serve, with correct quotas of minority representation. In discussing the voucher system, the public school officials have, at times, expressed concern about the public sector being completely depleted of students, and as a result, funds. On the contrary, “A voucher system, far from destroying the public sector, would greatly expand it, since it would force large numbers of schools, public and private, to open their doors to outsiders if they wanted to get funds.”[2] Unfortunately, the problems do not end here.

Under the voucher system, if private schools become filled with public school students, these schools will also indirectly be filled with money coming from the public system. Government funds will be supporting private schools. This is dangerous. Eventually, when the voucher schools are saturated with government funds, this financial support will turn into a harness. The responsibility and commitment the government has assumed for education will suddenly become restrictive. Since government aid will be keeping these voucher schools afloat, the schools will have to be accountable to the government in order to succeed. “The government might provide vouchers free of strings for several years, only to heavily regulate the schools once they became dependent on government funds,”[3] writes David Bernstein. Thus, the government pays for the education of each child.

“Government intrusion always follows government funding,” adds James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee of Public Affairs, “If [the voucher’s] purpose is to channel public money to private and parochial schools, we’re opposed, because those schools are supposed to be beyond the reach of government.”[4]

Government agencies would develop a panoply of regulations to apply to the voucher-supported schools, should the system ever be fully instituted. First the school would receive the voucher; next it would send the voucher to an appropriate oversight office, which would review the school and its adherence to the rules set up by the agency. Some of these regulations might include the following: the school must accept the voucher as full payment of tuition; the school must have open admission, with an acceptable number of minorities; it must utilize the standardized textbooks provided by the state; it must provide a completely approved financial report, and may not use voucher money to support religious instruction. “Both publicly and privately managed voucher schools would soon be entangled in the usual bureaucratic and political jungle, in which everything is either required or forbidden,”[5] concludes James Mecklenburger.

If a school chose to continue its religious instruction, the money used would have to be raised separately, with a separate accounting system, providing this would be approved by a government agency with the authority to institute new regulations as needs are presented. If the school fit the standards, the voucher agency would then cash the voucher. To prevent “hucksterism”—the process of a new school opening, collecting funds, and then immediately closing—the agency would withhold the right to return the voucher funds at intervals. This, in effect, would control how the school spends its money. “The [educational voucher agency] would soon develop a regulatory system as complex and detailed as that now governing the public schools.”‘

Moreover, the state could withhold funds from schools that it deemed educationally dangerous. Basically, this could apply to any school that the state believes to be nonconforming. This might apply to all religious instruction. At every angle religious education is being attacked and the non-public schools are basically made into carbon copies of the most restricted public schools.[6]

Thus, under the voucher system, schools would become assimilated, with diversity becoming practically nonexistent. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union has promised to “Lobby and litigate vigorously to make sure that the full panoply of regulations and constitutional safeguards that apply to public schools will apply to the recipients of vouchers as well.”[7] This means that all of the public school courses that teach sex education, values clarification, and other a-religious or even anti-religious classes may, under the voucher system, soon appear even in religious private schools.

Though some believe healthy competition will be the result of the voucher system, on the contrary, voucher-supported schools will become part of the monopoly of education by the government. Today, the salvation of free, non-politicized education in the United States rests on home-educators and those private schools that are willing and able to resist this socialist movement. []

1.   “The 24th Annual Gallup,” Phi Delta Kappan, Sept1992. p. 42.

2.   James A. Mecklenburger, Education Vouchers: From Theory to Alum Rock (Homewood, Ill.: ETC Publications, 1972), p. 116.

3.   David Bernstein, “Religion in School,” Current, May 1992, p. 15.

4.   James Dunn, as quoted in John H. Dukakis, “Should Government Help Kids Attend Private Schools?” Christianity Today, May 15, 1987, p. 53.

5.   Mecklenburger, p. 43.

6.   Ibid.

7.   Bernstein, p. 15.