I'll Support Vouchers If You'll Support Parent Choice

School ChoiceI think it’s a shame the way so many voucher proponents are so staunchly against parent choice. 

Oh, I know they fling these two words about a great deal, but they contradict themselves repeatedly in their proposals. And I, for one, think it’s time we call them out on it. 

For those of you who haven’t kept up with the conflict, vouchers are a means by which parents would be given a percentage of the per-pupil funding otherwise going to their local public school in order to use that money at a comparable educational institution of their choosing. The schools would thus lose a percentage of the money they’re allotted per student, the argument goes, but they’d also have one less student to serve – thus reducing the cost of bussing, heating and air, teacher salaries, food service, nursing, administration, grounds care, building maintenance, technology, and classroom supplies by a comparable percentage each time a student leaves. 

Parent choice. 

Opponents of vouchers are repeatedly called out as being against “parent choice,” when nothing could be further from the truth. I wholeheartedly support the right of every parent to homeschool their child, or send their child to a private school – religious or otherwise – or to seek out strictly online options, or whatever else they see fit to do. And in Oklahoma, they already have and always will have those options, completely and fully protected by both popular opinion and explicit legislation.

The only point of dispute is whether or not public tax dollars will be used to assist these parents in their endeavors. That’s a perfectly reasonable debate to have. 

Voucher Boy

Voucher supporters argue that the money belongs to the student or the parents, to be used for whatever they think best for their child. Opponents counter that public money belongs, once collected, to the public, to be used for whatever is determined to be best for the community. 

Voucher supporters argue that schools need competition and tougher oversight to improve, while opponents counter that schools are not businesses, their goals are not profits, and their kids are not products – they need support if they are to improve. 

But the most flyer-friendly, talking-point-ready argument from voucher supporters keeps coming back to that term – “parent choice.” So if we must have this discussion yet again, let’s at least make sure the parents are, in fact, being offered a choice.

I’m ready to support vouchers. Seriously. In the name of parent choice. But…

If we institute vouchers, they should be for the full amount of per-pupil spending designated by the state. If the money belongs to the kid, as proponents insist, then it all belongs to the kid. Tying it to family income level or district ‘grades’ on that horrible A-F report card makes no sense if the issue is parent choice. If it is, in fact, their money, then all parents should be granted the same choice to take it and go. 

Vouchers EquityIf we institute vouchers, all participating institutions should be required to accept every student who applies. If they accept any vouchers, they should be required to accept all vouchers. Otherwise, that’s not parent choice. If we’re going to rattle on incessantly about the holy status of parental control, let’s make it a fact as well as a talking point. Whatever their child’s special needs, academic ability, personality traits, behavior issues, background, race, religion, or sexuality, parents should have the widest possible range of choices what’s best for their child.  

If we institute vouchers, no participating institution should be allowed to charge parents even a dollar above and beyond the value of the voucher. Otherwise, that’s not parent choice. I realize this may prove a hardship for some schools, who already run on a rather tight budget. But surely this is easily addressed by first identifying waste and abuse. I mean, it’s not like parents aren’t already pouring godawful amounts of money into these places. They’re obviously just not using it efficiently. 

I’m sure the various sectarian and other private schools in the state could cut back on administrative costs. And have you seen the numbers spent on non-classroom positions? It’s shameful. 

They don’t really need a five-day school week when they could get in just as many hours going Monday through Wednesday if they’d just tweak the schedule a bit. Sorry, teachers – you’ll have to put in full work days like the rest of us; you might not get home in time for Ellen and bon-bons every afternoon. 

If we institute vouchers, all participating institutions should be expected to provide supplies and equipment for any child participating in any extra-curricular activity offered by the school. Of course they can sell candles or whatever to raise money if they prefer – but it must be consistent with what every other child participating is doing or able to do. Otherwise, it’s not really parent choice. We also need to talk about providing breakfast, lunch, and of course transportation to and from school. Art supplies. Uniforms. Additional reading or math tutoring as required. If a school is only able or willing to serve some students and not others, then that's not really parent choice

Vouchers ProtestWhile we have any number of top quality private options across Oklahoma currently, there are also those less… reputable, and there’s no telling what sorts of fly-by-night, exploitative institutions might appear once all that state money is flowing so freely. So if we institute vouchers, all participating institutions should be subject to some sort of quality control by the state. We’re already considering legislation to protect adult students from for-profit colleges; refusing to do the same thing for minors would be blatant negligence.  

Surely it can’t be that burdensome to comply with a few basic requirements and submit a few reports to make sure things are above-board. Much like with public schools, we must of course proceed under the assumption that all private school administrators are scam artists and their teachers both incompetent and wanna-be child-rapists. 

Besides, you don’t expect us to just keep throwing money at your little “school” without asking what we’re getting in return, do you? It shouldn’t really bother your staff how many man-hours are involved in red tape and compliance if you have nothing to hide. This isn’t your money, you know – didn’t we cover that part already?

Vouchers CartoonAnd of course, if we institute vouchers, we absolutely must have an annual ‘report card’ of some sort so parents can know how various schools are doing. Surely the whole premise of vouchers and their ability to magically solve problems, increase productivity, and reduce costs, assumes that parents are making informed choices, yes? If they’re not capable of figuring out if their child’s existing public school is doing a good job or not without something published in the local press to great fanfare every year, I don’t know how you’d expect them to choose from dozens of other options they’ve never even seen.

As a public school teacher, I’ll take my chances with that kind of parent choice. I even genuinely hope that some good comes of it – some innovation, some mutation of which we’ve not yet conceived… anything that ends up being good for kids.

But if voucher supporters aren’t willing to get serious about parent choice, then I’m not sure I can take their rhetoric seriously. If they’re not really in this for the reasons they claim, what in subsidized elitism’s name could they be fighting for instead?

I, for one, can’t imagine.

Comments

Dallas, you hit it dead-on again! And all of the above needs to be true of charter schools too!
Judy

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