Should Government Vouchers Be Given to Pay for Private Schools, Even if They're Religious Schools?
Overview/BackgroundThe first amendment of the Constitution says in part that the U.S. government cannot establish a state religion nor prohibit the free exercise of religion. This clause has been interpreted over the years to mean there should be an impenetrable wall between church and state. As far as the educational system is concerned, it means that government cannot forcibly introduce religion into studies or subsidize its teaching. Many Americans disagree with this interpretation.
The issue has once again come up for debate in various school choice programs. This allows parents to choose which school their children attend regardless of religion. Public schools are already fully funded by the government with U.S. tax dollars. If the parents choose a private school in the area, a "voucher" is given to the family which pays the cost of tuition at the private school. The program was developed due to the failure of public schools in many urban areas of the country. These programs have already started up in areas such as Cleveland and Milwaukee.
- Rich parents have a choice of schools for their kids; poor parents should have the same choice. In all but the smallest areas of the country, parents have a number of options for their child's education. Various religious and non-religious schools are available. Unfortunately, the private schools are not free. They are often very expensive. Rich parents can and do often choose the school which has the best reputation and results. However, poor parents who can't afford the private tuition usually have only one option--the public school in their area. That one choice may be a crime-ridden school that fails in all measures of academia. Is it fair that only rich parents can send their children to the best schools?
- Competition between schools is increased, leading to greater efficiency and results in all schools. For too long, public schools have been able to coast along with no level of accountability. When you're the only ones providing a subsidized education, you in effect have a monopoly; thus, you don't have as much of an incentive to improve efficiency. Competition has been the key to success in every area of business. How good would GM cars be if GM didn't have competition from Chrysler, Ford, and foreign operations? How good would Dell computers be if Dell didn't have competition from Gateway, IBM, Apple, and others? Competition will force public schools to squeeze out every bit of efficiency and start emphasizing the teaching of values such as hard work, discipline, and respect for others.
- Private schools have a better history of getting results in teaching information and values than public schools. Private schools can cost a significant amount of money. Yet, even with the cost, people with the means will usually choose private over public schools. Why? It's because the reputation and results of private schools are so much better. Measures of both character and academic success are almost always better at the private schools. Private schools have accountability; if they don't do a superior job, they won't have any students (unlike public schools which will have students no matter how bad of a job they do). Private schools are allowed to be more flexible in their teaching methods. Most of all, private schools focus more on teaching lifelong values that are often tied to religion (e.g. respecting your neighbor, not lying or stealing, working hard, etc.).
- Those parents who send their kids to private schools must in effect pay twice; i.e. their taxes pay for public schools that their children don't even attend. Regardless of where their children attend school, parents must pay taxes. These taxes are used to pay for the public school. Because private schools charge tuition, those parents that send their children to private schools are in effect paying twice.
- More private schools would provide opportunities for specialization; for example, schools could provide extra expertise in math, science, sports training, liberal arts, college preparation, and so on. College students are given thousands of choices of schools to continue their education. The choice often is determined by a school's reputation and/or areas of expertise. For example, they can target MIT for a technology-based career, John Hopkins for a medical career, or Harvard for a law career. Kids should have some of the same options if possible. Parents can often identify special talents in their children, which should be honed as soon as possible. This would also provide schools additional incentive to develop special expertise areas.
- Providing private school access to everyone will increase diversity. There is little debate that there's an income disparity between whites and other races. The option of expensive private schools often leads to schools that are somewhat segregated. Offering vouchers would introduce more diversity to the all schools since choice would no longer be a factor of income.
- More money is put back into the private sector rather than squandered at the Department of Education and other wasteful government bureaucracies. Government size and debt increases every year. The annual deficit is approaching 1.5 trillion! The U.S. already blows away every other country in the amount spent on education per student, yet we continue to get mediocre results. Clearly the system in place is not working. Let's give the private sector and the market a chance to let the best and most efficient rise to the top. Remember, the government is the only organization that continually gets awful results yet experiences increases in funding.
- The parent makes the choice between religious or non-religious schooling; thus, the government isn't imposing religion. Each and every parent would have a choice of religious and non-religious school. Thus, the government would in no way be violating the 1st Amendment establishment clause.
- Since most of the schools in the program are religious, government funding violates the 1st Amendment separation of church and state. The fact is that over 95 percent of all school vouchers go to religious schools. The Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment was put in specifically by the framers to avoid the abuses that inevitably come about in state-sponsored religious education. Centuries of religious wars in Europe plus the Middle Eastern wahabism serve as painful examples of religious dogma in schools. Religious ideas are invariably based on opinion & centuries-old teaching rather than scientific proof. Thus, they don't belong in the classroom, but in the home. Once government starts funding religious schools, it might start funding other religious institutions. Eventually, we have a religion-dominated society which can lead to discrimination (against gays, women, etc.) and take away individual freedoms (such as pornography, alcohol, etc.).
- Vouchers take funds away from already underfunded public schools. One of the biggest reasons public schools are failing is that they can't keep up with the ever increasing cost of books, teachers, computers, security, etc. If we start subsidizing private schools, much-needed funds will be diverted from the public schools. This will only make bad schools worse.
- Private schools aren't subject to as rigorous of oversight (other than from the market for schools); thus, they may not act responsibly. Public schools are subject to government oversight and more rules & regulation. Thus, tighter control is placed on the teaching methods and system of education. With little or no oversight, we don't know how well private schools will perform. Only the marketplace can govern their actions; in other words, the only means of oversight is the ability of parents to take their children elsewhere for an eduction.
- Public schools must accept everyone regardless of disabilities, test scores, religion, or other characteristics; private schools can show favoritism or discrimination in selecting students. Private schools can establish any criteria they want for selecting or rejecting students. Thus, they can discriminate or make eligibility standards much more difficult for poorer students. Public schools on the other hand must accommodate all types of students regardless of what challenges they present. Government funds should be kept with the public schools that take on these challenges rather than private schools that may discriminate.
- The quality of education at the private schools may be brought down by new students that aren't as gifted. Although it may not be politically correct to say, sometimes the students at certain private schools are there because of high achievement or parents that are passionately devoted to their education. Parents who send their kids to expensive private schools aren't always rich; some parents do it because they see special talent in their kids. Also, parents who spend extra money on education are often more motivated to see their kids succeed, since they don't want their money wasted. If less gifted students enter a school, teachers must spend extra time to discipline or assist them, which detracts from the rest of the class.
Related LinksReader Comments
Wikipedia - School Vouchers
Arguments For School Vouchers
Arguments Against School Vouchers
The Lessons of School Choice
Why School Vouchers Can Help Inner-City Kids
What Does a Voucher Buy? A Closer Look at the Cost of Private Schools
Written by: Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated: 01/07/2012