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The case for school vouchers

Yes, vouchers are in the news again as the newly elected governor of Florida has proposed a state-wide program for school vouchers. The plan goes something like this: Each student gets an education credit of around $5,500 (the current per student expenditure for the state), which can be used to pay for tuition and school expenses wherever they or their parents choose.

I believe a case can be made that guaranteeing access to education for everyone is a legitimate mandate for government, even if only from a national security standpoint. An ignorant population with nothing to do is a dangerous thing. However, it does not follow that the government must micro-manage education. Providing funds which can be used as the parents or guardians see fit allows for diversity, creativity and healthy competition.

Yes, it cold hurt public schools to the extent that they lose students, but they’re only going to lose students at a rate the market can keep pace with. A voucher system could be instituted gradually which would give them time to downsize if necessary or stop and reverse the exodus by presenting a better value proposal to the public (get better at what they’re supposed to be doing). Good schools will thrive. Bad schools will disappear. What’s the problem?

It would not reduce the number of teaching jobs. In fact, it’s more likely to increase them as a lower student to teacher ratio would be a competitive selling point. The incentive would be to improve quality while lowering costs. Again, what’s the problem?

The resistance comes mainly from two camps as far as I can tell. One in which people are convinced that a select group of bureaucrats will make better value judgments than most individuals left to their own devices and of course, the public teachers unions. There’s not much to be done about the first camp. Those who believe in the supremacy of the collective have to come to the light on their own. The unions are just doing their job. Their job is not to ensure quality education. It’s to maximize compensation and benefits for their members. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean the other side of the table can’t say no from time to time. The other side of the table is us.

I believe it’s time to give vouchers a fair test. We know the status quo is not acceptable. If a voucher system doesn’t work well, we’ll need to try another approach. Doing nothing is not a solution. The voucher system is at least a feasible and reasonable possibility.

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