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Voucher Dangers

Mises Daily: Saturday, November 28, 1998 by

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Published in The Orlando Sentinel, November 28, 1998 Taxpayer vouchers allowing students to attend private schools is a bad idea whose time may have come anyway.

It's a bad idea, despite the growing hype for it, for a number of reasons. Mixing public funds in private institutions is never a good idea. A great deal of the mischief done in this country is by private groups financed by the federal government.

Government and private business should be kept as separate as government and church. I don't know of any instance in which mixing public funds with private funds has produced a good result.

So that's one general reason vouchers are a bad idea.

Another reason is that private schools that accept public-financed vouchers soon will find themselves controlled by federal and state bureaucrats. Any private-school administrator who doesn't believe this is naive. Control follows funds like the hind end of a hog follows the head. The long-term result will be that private schools will become as bad as government schools.

Still another reason vouchers are a bad idea is that they being sold on a false premise. The sales pitch for vouchers goes like this: Poor students trapped in "bad schools" should have the opportunity to go to private schools.

That's false because what makes a bad school bad is not the faculty or the building or the location -- but the students. Bad students will turn a school into a bad school whether it's private or public. In fact, the virtue of private schools is that they can reject the bad students. Once they start down the road of accepting public funds, however, this option will be closed to them by the government.

The guiding principle of the current ruling elite or knowledge class or whatever you want to call it is that people are never responsible for themselves. Thus, if the students score poorly, it is not the fault of the students. It must be the fault of the teachers or the administrators or some unknown cosmic forces, they assert. The simple truth is that the fault lies with the student and no one else.

This non-responsibility ploy not only fits the determinist model, but it also saves cowardly politi-cians from having to tell sorry students and often even-sorrier parents the truth: The hole you are in is the hole you dug yourself. God only knows that the last thing a politician wants to say these days to anyone is you're responsible for your own fate.

Another reason to oppose vouchers is that it will end up being a subsidy for the well-off. The poor-kid ploy is the sales pitch, but let it take hold and you'll find out that the kids whose parents are able to pay the difference between the voucher and the private-school tuition will be those from middle- and upper-income families. Once more the working, single mom in a dangerous, convenience-store job will end up subsidizing the lawyer, the journalist, the executive, the doctor and the businessman.

Another false premise used to sell the idea of vouchers is the assertion that government schools will be forced to become competitive. Government schools cannot compete in any sense of that word. They are government schools, creatures of the law and politics. Faculty, its pay, and the curricula are determined not by the schools but by politicians, bureaucrats and, in some cases, judges.

To state that public schools can compete with private schools is like saying a bronze statue of a horse can run a race with a live horse.

(C) copyright 1998 The Orlando Sentinel