Cursing the Light

Cursing the Light

Teachers unions continue to use empty rhetoric to bash promising school privatization efforts.

It is a given – and understandable – that teachers unions deplore vouchers or opportunity scholarships, arrangements whereby public monies are used to fund a private school education; it hurts their bottom line. With very few exceptions, private schools are not unionized, and every time students leave their public schools, fewer unionized teachers are needed. That translates to fewer dues dollars for the union.

So like pushy salesmen with an inferior product, the unions resort to evasions, distortions and outright lies to sell their wares.

The unions say, “Vouchers don’t improve outcomes.”

Actually, the data say otherwise. For example, the oldest voucher program in the country is in Wisconsin where “Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative.” More dramatically, Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have the lowest graduation rate in the country – a rather pathetic 59 percent. Yet, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) just announced that its 2012 grad rate was 97 percent with 91 percent of the students going on to college.

The unions say, “Vouchers are unpopular with the public.”

That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Satisfaction with the DCOSP is very high, with 93 percent of parents happy with their child’s school. In May, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of American adults said they support vouchers. Also, the findings show that mothers make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Unfortunately public schools didn’t fare so well in the Friedman study with only 39 percent of Americans giving local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012 – a 15-point drop in just one year.

(Another entity that is unpopular with the public is the teachers unions. According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think the unions have a positive effect on schools.)

The unions say, “… (Voucher) programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars and increase bureaucratic and administrative costs.”

This is a perennial union talking point. It’s also a crock, because voucher programs actually save taxpayers money. A good example is in Washington, D.C. where their choice program costs $7,500 per student – about a quarter of what is spent on students in the DCPS.

If we expanded DCOSP, the savings would be even greater. Looking at the eight states with the highest median per pupil educational spending in the United States,

… If only ten percent of these students took advantage of scholarships similar to the ones in the D.C. program, more than 621,000 students would move from public to private schools within their states. This analysis assumes that the scholarships would be worth 60 percent of the median current-year expenditure per pupil-or a bit more expensive than in Washington. The savings per-pupil would be great, 40 percent; in the aggregate, the savings would be greater still.

The unions say, A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”

A little class warfare with your entrée? The suggestion here is that vouchers will segregate us as a people and promote civil disharmony. But the opposite is true.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick writes,

Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

The largest and most comprehensive of these studies, Dr. Patrick Wolf’s “Civics Exam,” found that private school students are, on average, more politically tolerant, more knowledgeable about our system of government, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more politically active than their government school peers.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, civic education in government schools has significantly declined

Jay Greene, writing in The Wall Street Journal, adds,

It is no small irony that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been trying to shut down the federally funded voucher program that allows students to attend private religious schools in Washington. In 2009 the administration worked to prevent the program from being re-authorized. Only tough bargaining by House Speaker John Boehner has allowed vouchers in D.C. to survive. The administration that otherwise promotes tolerance at every turn is still angling to end the program.

It is not clear why private schools have an advantage in producing more tolerant students. It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

The unions say, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The unions have a specific agenda and will pursue it at all costs. Whatever claims they make about vouchers serve to further that agenda and have little to do with reality. Their efforts to keep people in the dark forever – and their children in failing schools – are doomed to fail.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!