Taxpayers, School Choice and the Unions

Taxpayers, School Choice and the Unions

A new study reveals that vouchers save Americans a bucket load of cash.

A blockbuster report released last week shows that the American taxpayer is much better off living in a locale where school vouchers have been instituted. Vouchers, which enable children to use public funding to attend private schools, are available in scattered states and cities across the country.

Examining the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide, Jeff Spalding, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice director of fiscal policy, found a savings of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. As Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick writes,

Spalding, the former comptroller/CFO for the city of Indianapolis, is cautious, methodical, and transparent in his analysis. He walks readers through the complex process of determining the fiscal impact of each program, identifying the impact of each variable and explaining equation along the way. He also makes relatively conservative assumptions, such as counting food service and interscholastic athletics as fixed costs even though they are variable with enrollment. 

While it’s not surprising that vouchers save money (the amount that a parent receives in the form of a voucher is always less than the cost to educate that child in a public school), the $1.7 billion figure is eye-opening.

In addition to saving taxpayers money, giving parents a choice of schools typically affords their kids a superior education. As Greg Forster, senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation, wrote last year,

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

So, vouchers afford a better education for less money. Who could possibly be against that?

The answer is any and everyone who has a vested interest in the status quo – most notably educrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators. In fact, nothing scares the spit out of the unions more than school privatization because non-public schools are independent and not part of a school district, which unions can organize en masse. They simply don’t have the resources to deal with one school at a time.

The National Education Association website has a bullet-pointed page dedicated to its case against vouchers. The “information” posted is flawed, starting with its “educational case.”

Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

Since private schools do a better job of educating, maybe they should lead the way, not the public schools.

Its “social case” is downright silly.

A voucher lottery is a terrible way to determine access to an education. True equity means the ability for every child to attend a good school in the neighborhood.

Lotteries are indeed horrible for the losers. But using this argument in 1912, NEA would probably have said, “Since we can’t save everyone on the Titanic, let’s make everyone stay on board and go down with the ship.” The best way to eliminate lotteries is to make vouchers universal. The resulting uptick in private schools would eventually give all kids the opportunities they deserve.

And NEA’s “legal case” is flat out wrong. The claim here is that:

Vouchers tend to be a means of circumventing the Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practice and instruction.

In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, the Supreme Court ruled that because financial aid goes to parents and not the school, vouchers are indeed constitutional.

The union’s “political landscape” claim is beyond laughable.

Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about “school choice” and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy.

Elitist?! Rich folks don’t need a few thousand bucks from the government to send their children to a private school. Those kids get to go anyway. It’s the middle and lower income people who need and benefit most from vouchers.

One more bit of information for NEA and other hidebound monopolists: vouchers don’t hurt public education. As I have stressed many times, competition works in education – just as it does everywhere else. Vouchers typically make public schools better. In fact, Greg Foster’s analysis shows that,

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools. (Emphasis added.)

And lastly, something else that is missing from the NEA website is the fact that teachers – especially good ones – can make more money in places where choice is available. Just last week, a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that teachers’ salaries would increase if states would introduce school choice.  Where there is competition, quality is rewarded.

So what do we know? Vouchers save money, enable children to get a superior education, and reward good teachers. Happily, the American public is looking favorably upon school choice, with 50 percent now favoring a universal voucher system; only 39 percent are opposed.

What we don’t know is how much longer our sclerotic power brokers will be able to stand in the way of a system that benefits everyone – everyone, that is, but the reactionary union elites, their political cronies and everyone else who insists on business-as-usual.

(Note: In my ongoing effort to dispel education myths, I will be speaking at TruthFest, an event in Los Angeles this Saturday, October 11th.)

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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.


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