Why Federal School Vouchers Are a Bad Idea (from Cato Institute during W.Bush admin)
Why School Vouchers Are a Bad Idea (Ron Paul)
Above I have included links to other articles that argue against school vouchers. There are many reasons to reject school vouchers as an education policy, especially if it is enacted at the federal level, but the most pertinent reasons have yet to be summarized in one article and that is my purpose here.
Federal School Vouchers Would Just Be An Expansion of The Welfare State
Before I go any further, I would like to make it clear what vouchers actually are. Vouchers are not, as
school choice proponents like to claim, giving parents their money back to spend on a school they think is best fit for their child. In reality, since vouchers are provided to low income children the parents are more often than not getting more than what they contributed in taxes, so vouchers are in fact demand side subsidies, not tax credits as
school choice proponents falsely claim. Furthermore, only a select few parents, who fall below the arbitrarily defined poverty line, will have any chance of receiving a voucher, only a fraction of whom will be selected by lottery. If school vouchers were actually about giving parents back their tax dollars to spend on a school they think is best for their children, it wouldn't be exclusively targeted at impoverished parents. Middle class parents and even some wealthy parents also send their children to public schools but they don't stand to benefit from the proposed $20B in federal school vouchers, which is only targeted at 11 million children that live below the poverty line. So the nature of school vouchers is really more akin to benefit payments than it is to a tax credit. School vouchers, even at the state level, are no different in principle than HUD's housing choice vouchers, TANF, SNAP, or any other welfare programs. School voucher programs are simply outsourcing public education to private institutions; it does not make education a private affair anymore than outsourcing military services to private defense contractors makes the war in Afghanistan a private war. The government still decides which schools get the goodies and which parents get to make a choice. On top of that school attendance is still compulsory so the child has no choice in the matter. This doesn't give children and parents more autonomy, it just makes private schools dependent on government funding and introduces the perverse incentive to compete for subsidies. Competing for subsidies is not a
market-oriented approach no matter how much mental gymnastics Betsy Devos and other school choice hacks do to frame it as such. The only thing that will result from a federal school voucher program is a Private/Charter School lobby that will petition for more goodies and accreditation requirements to keep out as much competition as feasible.
Federal School Vouchers Would Be Unconstitutional
Among the many reasons why Trump's plan to provide $20B in federal school vouchers as block grants to states should be rejected, the most important reason is that such a program would be unconstitutional. Article 1 Section 8 details a short list of powers delegated to congress and subsidizing private schools isn't one of them. Yes, congress has drastically deviated from what was originally intended of it, but thousands of wrongs don't justify an additional one. The objection that federal school vouchers should be accepted because congress has already exceeded its constitutional limits is simply the tu quoque fallacy writ large. It is akin to arguing that murder should be permissible because people do it anyway, and sometimes getaway with it, despite legal and moral prohibitions. The 10th amendment dictates that
powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the State's respectively, or to the people. Education, especially primary education, is a state and local issue that should be controlled and funded at the state and local level. Having a public school system funded by property taxes might still be a bad policy but at least it isn't outright unconstitutional like Trump's federal school voucher proposal.
Separation of Education and State
School voucher programs are not unconstitutional at the state level unless they are written to only benefit religious schools or exclude some religious schools from the program. However, even at the state level they still delegate to the government more control over their citizens' lives than what is necessary to protect their natural rights. Ideally, education should be a completely private affair. A school voucher program, even at the state level, does not make education any more private then replacing government employees with government contractors makes any government undertaking a private one (e.g. private prisons and defense contractors). It is still directed and allocated by the state, but even worse, it subjects private schools to more state regulations such as anti-discrimination laws and laws concerning what they have to include in their curriculum. The best education is self-education. The education you provide yourself is intrinsically motivated and more conducive to learning than education motivated by fear of state violence and negative societal evaluation. Autodidactism has never been easier than in the information age with free E-learning resources, like Khan Academy and Academic Earth, online journal databases, and online Universities. The first step towards making education private is to make school attendance voluntary. A generation that takes interest in it's own education instead of having it hammered into them will naturally become less subservient to the state and work towards a freer society.