The Case for School Vouchers

Why choice should trump coercion.


If you were planning to pull any practical jokes on Lily Eskelen Garcia or Bob Farrace, you might want to hold off. They're probably not in the mood for it.

Garcia is president of the National Education Association. Farrace is a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. They recently were quoted about Nevada's passage of a school-choice measure, which allows families opting out of the public education system to send their kids' share of per-pupil spending to whatever school they choose.

Garcia says this leaves her "terrified" because so many states (27 at last count) "have bought into this very dangerous idea that school is a commodity." Farrace warns that "funneling public funds to private schools means fewer teachers, fewer counselors, fewer supplemental services and, in general, fewer opportunities for the vast majority of kids who remain in public schools. It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good."

These are standard talking points in the school-choice debate—and rather misleading ones. At worst, voucher programs can leave public schools with slightly less money to spend per remaining pupil. But in fact they usually leave the schools with more, because most vouchers offer less than the state's per-pupil expenditure. For example, if 10 students each leave a school with an 80 percent voucher, then the school has 10 fewer students but loses only eight students' worth of funding. Meanwhile, the state is spending only 80 percent of what it otherwise would have on the voucher students.

Granted, this math doesn't work if all the kids who use vouchers would have gone to private school anyway. But the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that's almost never the case. Usually only 10 percent to 15 percent of voucher recipients fall into that category, and half of them would go back to the public schools without a voucher. Hence Florida's tax-credit scholarship program has saved the state more than $1.40 for every voucher dollar, amounting to a savings of nearly $40 million a year. Milwaukee's school-choice program has produced even bigger savings.

So the complaint about siphoning off resources from the public schools misses its mark. But what the heck, let's be sporting and assume for the sake of argument that it's true. In that case, one reasonable response might be: So what?

After all, what is a school voucher but a kind of Obamacare subsidy?

Obamacare's subsidies make private medical care accessible to their recipients. With it, they can choose from among a variety of approved providers—just like those who use school vouchers. The NEA, which supports Obamacare, certainly doesn't consider this "dangerous." Nor does it fret that offering people a range of choices among health care providers commoditizes medicine. Nor, evidently, do public-education advocates think Obamacare's limited freedom of consumer choice places "individual benefit before the public good." After all, the public good is served when people get medical care—not when they get it through one particular source only.

Granted, while health care reform was being debated the NEA said it "strongly supports a public health care option." Guess what? School voucher programs include a public option, too—existing public schools. Nobody is forced to use a voucher. That means a school voucher program resembles precisely the public-private hybrid arrangement the NEA sought for health care.

But what the teachers unions fought to pass in health care, they fight against in education. Go figure.

Critics of vouchers always warn about the dangers of giving parents more options: private schools with low standards, lousy curricula, "abhorrent discipline policies," and so on—as if we didn't read about similar problems in the public schools every day. They don't bother to mention that public-school teachers send their own kids to private schools at twice the rate the general public does—and, in some places, three to four times the rate.

The current education model, meanwhile, is nothing like Obamacare. It's not like Obamacare with a public option. It's not even like a single-payer system, such as a Medicare-for-all program would be. Rather, it's the equivalent of a state-run system in which the vast majority of the public is consigned to a government-run hospital or clinic, while the rich buy their way out.

But imagine for a moment that America's education system did resemble Obamacare. In each case, consumers chose from a wide array of private providers, along with a couple of public ones, and the government guaranteed financial support for those who couldn't pay. Now imagine someone coming along and suggesting that we scrap the entire free-choice system and herd everyone, except the very rich, into state schools and hospitals managed and run by government bureaucrats.

How many people would be willing to make that switch?

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  1. It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good.

    Wow. That still just blows me away to read people saying that sort of thing. Shouldn’t – but it still does.

    Oh, and, “Fuck you, bitch.”

    1. Also, “Fuck off, slaver”.

      1. Yes. Thanks.

    2. It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good.

      +1 “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

      1. It does come back to this, doesn’t it? Yes – it does.

  2. Teachers’ union officials are public benefactors – they should all live long and prosper, and never see the inside of a prison unless they’re visiting Germany and want to gloat over the homeschoolers in their dungeons.

    And they should always remain in excellent health and be completely free of any form of cancer, especially the nasty, debilitating kinds of cancer.

    1. Your kind and generous wishes should be emulated throughout the commentariat. You are a shining example of good will and positive interaction. May you live long – and prosper, as well!

    2. And may they remain far, far away from woodchippers.

      1. what the fuck is it with people and woodchippers on these comment threads? honestly, newbie looking for answers here.

        1. Not a newbie but I can’t shed any light on it. Maybe someone re-watched Fargo. Just go with it.

    3. It’s time to privatize the entire school system. Take the current taxes and expenditures, assign them on a per student basis and link the compensation to some inflation index. Perhaps some sort of special needs schools could be handled by the government, but even that sector could likely be better served by a business with efficiency in mind. Take the bureaucracy currently sucking up the tax dollars, downsize it and task it with accrediting and overseeing schools.

      Sell the schools and the buses and put the proceeds in Al Gore’s lockbox to serve as a reserve to cushion shocks due to varying tax revenues.

      Then let schools determine whether they want to hire union teachers.

      Other than the obvious threat posed by angry unionites, I can’t see why this wouldn’t work.

  3. Just graduated one kid from Catholic High School. The next one starts this Fall.

    I’m paying a lot of money to avoid having these assholes “educate” my kids. I would love to get some back.

    1. I’ve always been curious: do they accept non-Catholics? I’d be willing to have my kids sit through some proselytizing if it meant the difference between a good and shitty education.

      1. Most do that I’m familiar with. We were going to send our WASP son to the Catholic school his last year in Middle School, but I was transferred back to MI, where the public schools in our community were better. So…

        But, yeah – the ones I’ve checked into all took anyone who paid and would follow the rules.

      2. Yep – In our school they all have to take Theology and sit through an occasional Mass, but you don’t have to be Catholic. My Presbyterian daughter just got an A in Theology.

      3. do they accept non-Catholics?

        The Catholic School where I sent my kids did. I think most do, but you could ask them.

      4. My kid goes to Jew preschool.

        I actually think it’s a good idea. He learns about stuff that he otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.

        1. Without getting into all the particulars, the PUBLIC school my son attended in Ohio had the kids attend religious studies classes at the RC Church next door to the school (!!). We didn’t object….and little Presbyterian John, our son, was absolutely the BEST, and got top marks….and frankly learned a lot. I was impressed.

          We just thought it was funny that the heretic was better at the lessons than the Lion Tow-ers 🙂

        2. Jew preschool.

          Whoa, you just dropped a hard J on us.

          1. I did. But they dropped it on me first.

      5. One of the Catholic schools here does accept non-Catholics, but they offer a heavy discount for those who are provably Catholic.

        1. Sounds like it’s time to find Jesus.

          1. A friend of ours did this. He and his family are South African. He apparently knows the priest from a local Catholic church in nowhere SA and had him send “proof” of his having received Confirmation as a kid. Then he fast-tracked Confirmation (and all that other BS for his kids) and BOOM! Tuition went from $9k per to just above $3k.

            My family is fortunate that our kids’ private school has a very well appointed trust which doles out shit loads of cash in the form of financial aid. All of it is private and voluntary. The way that it should be.

        2. That’s because the Catholics are expected(sometimes required) to drop a certain amount in the collection basket every week.

      6. Most schools encourage prospective 8th graders to “shadow” a student for a day. Look into it.

  4. Wouldn’t fewer students mean that the school district would need fewer teachers, fewer counselors, and fewer supplemental services and therefore the remaining students would have whatever number they need?

    1. Yes.

      But remember that educating students isn’t the primary concern; making sure the state gives in to the demands of teachers is.

      1. Yeah, it’s not as if there won’t be teachers at those private schools. It’s just they won’t be part of her union. So obviously in her eyes, “less teachers.”

      2. You may now replace your muzzle, oh muzzled one!

        Ahem, and DON’T TALK ABOUT THE WAR!

          1. What war?

      3. Which is why I propose the following tactic for negotiating with the NEA and its hangers-on;

        “What we WANT is to see the NEA and all other Teachers’ Unions branded as criminal conspiracies to defraud the public. I think that the past four decades of public school record should provide ample evidence for that. What we’re willing to SETTLE for is vouchers.”

    2. She’s the perfect example of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy

      First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

      Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

      The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

  5. Rather, it’s the equivalent of a state-run system in which the vast majority of the public is consigned to a government-run hospital or clinic, while the rich buy their way out.

    It’ll be a good day when libertarian writers STOP using the language of progressives.

    It isn’t just “the rich” that buy their way out.

    We live in a single income home that brings in less than $50k per, and we still insist on private schools. I’m not “buying my way out.” I’m giving my kids a chance.

    So fuck you with your implication it’s on “the rich” that choose private schools.

    1. I think that was an attempt at using leftist hyperbole for argumentative effect.

      1. But I concede Muzzled’s point, and agree. It ain’t just the rich. A lot of my friends went to the local Catholic school growing up – it wasn’t cheap, and they weren’t rich. But they were RC, and their parents WERE going to put them through and RC school, so – they scrimped and managed.

        1. Oh, I 100% agree it’s not just “the rich.” I just think Hinkle was trying to hoist them on their own libtard.

          1. “hoist by their own libtard”

            nice 🙂

      2. I think that was an attempt at using leftist hyperbole for argumentative effect.

        If so, it was poorly done.

    2. It is a funny bit of dissonance among the anti-choice crowd, though. They as much as admit a two-tier system exists and shafts the poor, and their remedy is to lock the poor into public-school prisons by dint of law. It’s why they’re losing this fight.

      1. They do, but the implication being that if it weren’t for those horrible rich people who fund private schools, that all of that rich money would go to the public school system. That the system is only bad BECAUSE “rich people” decide to send their kids to private school.

        They (and this article apparently) also forget that I send multiple thousands of dollars per annum to my local public schools in the form of property taxes, yet don’t use a dime of it. Though I pay lots of money for public schools, it would take much more to equal the amount the government would pay to school them. So rather than having LESS money due to private school students going elsewhere, my local public schools actually BENEFIT from my kids not attending them.

        1. They’re also getting money from childless people like me, and they still can’t make do. I don’t think there is enough money in the entire fucking world to make their system work.

      2. The thing you have to keep firmly in mind is that, all their Rhetoric aside, the Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive left is all about keeping the Lower Orders in their place. Oh, selected exceptions, found young and taught to parrot their betters, may rise out of the herd. But for the most part these swine are would-be aristocrats. They think that the world would be much better run in the hands of Top Men, and would you look at that! those Top Men just HAPPEN to be them.

        It really is a thread running all through their history; they hated America because America rejected the Aristocracy. The Democrats, their party of choice, just HAPPEN to be the same party that was pro-confederacy (with it’s would be planter Aristocracy). They loathed the Industrial Revolution less because of how it exploited the Workers than because of how much more freedom it afforded them, and they loathed it all the more because of the kind of self-made men it propelled to prominence.

        Right now there LIRPs an be divided into two groups; those who, in a class based society would be the Upper Class (landed, inherited wealth), and those who have fooled themselves into thinking that they would be.

    3. I wish I could send my kid to a private school. There are only two in the area. One is a Baptist cult where the women wear dresses, cover their hair, and eschew makeup, while the tuition at the other one is roughly equal to my salary. Alas, the little one starts kindergarten at the public school this fall. At least it’s one of the best districts in the state. Tallest midget I guess.

      1. I wish I could send my kid to a private school.

        What’s the charter situation by you?

        1. Nonexistant.

            1. Interesting. Thanks for the link. I’ll look into that later.

      2. And by closing down the few private and/or parochial outlets available, public schools will be made *more* competitive… somehow.

        1. Of course.

          Everyone knows that government monopolies work fucking great. It’s only the corporate kind that are bad.

          1. Well, yeah. Corporate monopolies are motivated by profits, so they’re bad. Government monopolies are motivated by the public good (good for everyone except you, and you pay for it even if you neither want nor use what they have to offer), so they’re wonderful.

          2. Don’t point out their logical inconsistencies. That’s the sort of thing that gets you put on a list.

            1. If I’m not on a list yet, I’m doing it wrong.

              I haven’t written there for a while, but my blog has been traditionally far more inflammatory than the comments that shall not be named.

        2. The school that the little one will be going to used to be a private school forty or so years ago before it was assimilated. Seems to have retained some of the values of a private school though. Could be much worse. The town just north of us has the worst schools in the state.

      3. I’ve vowed to homeschool my kids before I send them to public school, but since I stay at home anyways, it’s not a financial loss.

        In fact, it would be a huge financial boon to my family were I to choose to do so. My problem is that I haven’t found a single local homeschool group that isn’t either super religious fools or far left idiots.

        1. Why not homeschool through an online program?

          1. I’ve thought about it. And that’s likely the way I’d go were I to choose that route. But I’m of the philosophy that kids learn as much from interacting with one another as they do from a book or an online lesson or a teacher.

            1. I agree with you. However, I do suspect that so-called “digital natives” like our children, can and will interact with one another in online media in a qualitatively different way that those of us who were born earlier. Baring that, interacting with neighborhood kids is always an option, depending on how isolated or not your home is.

              1. I wouldn’t call us isolated, but the one kid that’s around the same age as one of our kids is a little asshole. My kid hates him. And there aren’t any kids that are close to my youngest son’s age.

                Other than the one kid, there are no other kids for quite a ways away (we’re in semi-rural Central KY).

                That said, we do have them in sports which gives them interaction that might be able to replace kids at school.

            2. As someone who was homeschooled for a few years from elementary to middle school and had lots of homeschooled friends, the socialization fear is unfounded. You can do the same work that is done in public school in a tiny fraction of the time at home. The rest of the day can be spent playing with friends or hobbies or volunteering. I took classes in subjects I enjoyed and met kids who shared my interests. In the evening I played with whichever neighborhood kids who weren’t doing homework, because I was done with all of mine.

              1. *kids weren’t doing

              2. I agree with the socialization nonsense. But that’s not what I’m getting at.

                I think that kids actually LEARN from other kids (school stuff too). I recall numerous times when another student might show me a different way to engage a particular problem (quadratic equation, for instance) that helped me to learn how to solve it.

        2. My homeschool group in the Bay Area had religious fundamentalists, polyamorous pagans, and everything in between.

          The differences don’t matter so much when philosophies about education are so similar.

          1. Thanks for the insight. I may have to look in to the local groups again and re-evaluate them in that light.

  6. “It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good.”

    So, I’m supposed to sacrifice my child’s education for the “public good”. Piss off.

    1. I know. This is STILL grating on my ears. I know by now I shouldn’t be taken aback when I hear stuff like this, cause it’s so common. But I’m still taken aback when I hear stuff like this….plus, I wanna punch ’em in the…

      No, no, no! No punching at all! Haha! NOT A THREAT! Haha! Just a figure of speech! No punching at all around here! None! Ever! Haha!

      1. I know, I see what you’re getting at. You want to…gently…punch some sense into them. I get it.

        1. I certainly don’t want to punch anyone! Hahaha! No punching here! None at all! Hahaha!

          Ha! None! Nope! Shiny Happy People! Flowers! Bunnies! Puffy Clouds! Glowing thoughts, especially for our government officials! God bless us, everyone! Haha!

    2. “It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good.”

      So for instance, if it was proven that having lots of single mothers didn’t benefit the public good, the president of the NEA would support advocating for traditional families?

  7. Schooling isn’t a commodity, it’s a service. If Garcia doesn’t even understand that distinction, she’s a blithering idiot.


    1. Blithering idiot, political hack. WDATPDIM?

  8. When someone talks of “the public good” they mean “everyone benefits except you, and you pay for it.”

  9. We absolutely can’t treat school as a commodity. The teachers union are horrified, don’t you know it’s children that must be the commodity. And don’t you awful parents dare take away a single one from their grasp! Teachers might starve.

    /the following comment is snark and not to be construed as a threat to Any persons living or dead.

    1. er preceding comment. We’re never going to get an edit button now are we?

      1. Edit buttons are for Top Men, BuSab. And we – we are NOT Top Men. We are not 🙁

      2. It’s the single reason why I didn’t donate last year.

        Well, that and I didn’t have any spare change to throw in during the drive.

  10. It really violates the public trust when policymakers place individual benefit before the public good.”


  11. “funneling public funds to private schools means fewer teachers, fewer counselors, fewer supplemental services and, in general, fewer opportunities for the vast majority of kids who remain in public schools”

    Well, if you overlook the fact that there are fewer kids remaining in public schools, maybe.

    Why isn’t it equally accurate to say that refusing to funnel public funds to private schools means fewer, etc. for the kids who go to private school?

    Is this about educational resources for children, or perhaps something else?

  12. I find it interesting that Ms.Farrace warns that “funneling public funds to private schools means fewer teachers, fewer counselors etc., but doesn’t mention fewer students

    The last figures I heard were $10,000 per student was the cost annually for the public school system in my county. Only a very few of the most expensive private schools here cost more than that and they have a 100% college acceptance record.

    The school system still makes money if they receive $10,000 per student but that student goes to a private school on a voucher for only $5000 per year. The county keeps $5000 and doesn’t have to do anything for it.

    Allowing parents to use these funds for their designated purpose (educating children) is the answer, not who gets the money but who gets the best education. The NEA and other special interests want the power and the money regardless what is best for the students.

    The whole idea of property taxes paying for schools is also criminal. My parents are paying property taxes to support the schools when they haven’t had a child in school for over 40 years. The best part is if they don’t pay property taxes, their house will be taken from them even though it has been paid for also for forty years.

    In the US, you have the right to own property until you miss a tax payment then you no longer own the property….we are really just leasing land from the government.

  13. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…

  14. Does anyone here know of a good, preferably nationwide, charity that funds private school scholarships for inner city kids? Other than the Catholic Church, please.

  15. Funny, I thought this was a libertarian website. “Choice” is just a warm fuzzy euphemism for coercion, so your subtitle should read, “Why coercion should trump coercion.” And seriously, you are using Obamacare to argue for vouchers? It’s such a good thing in health care, that we need our “education” system to look like it too?

    Marshall Fritz long ago demolished all the statist arguments for vouchers, here: http://www.schoolandstate.org/…..erPage.htm
    His points still apply. If it’s tax funded, it’s just another government program, with all that implies (indoctrination, anyone?)

  16. Vouchers work for people with some money. The cost of private schools always exceeds the value of the voucher.
    Private schools do not take special ed kids, or kids who behave badly, or kids who don’t speak English well.
    SO… use vouchers and charter schools to remove all but the worst kids from public school.
    Do you want to live with the kids who end up in public schools?
    Can you imagine how badly educated poor, stupid kids behave when they grow up?
    Go for voucher, go for charters. Get the best kids out of public education. But don’t live near a city, cause those kids are gonna be dangerous.

    1. Actually, there are private schools that DO take special ed kinds, misbehaving kids, and those who don’t speak english well. And while vouchers may not meet their price, they would make it more reachable for many. Are we to do nothing because what we CAN do isn’t perfect?

      The Public School system is broken. I have opinions as to why, but the reason doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it has resisted efforts to fix it that work within its framework. The system, like most things that humans create, has calcified and has to be shaken up.

      As for “Don’t go near a city”; those kids are not more dangerous than the kids of the 1970’s; the crime stats show this. But they are screwed. However, holding back the slightly more fortunate isn’t going to make them any less screwed.

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  18. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netcash5.com

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