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Why school vouchers are a bad idea

2004.04.27 — Government | Education | by Derek Jensen

Grade school student

Potential victim of conservative education ideas. [source]

The push by conservatives in the United States for school vouchers is a straightforward attempt to undermine public education and an indirect attempt to undermine the separation of church and state. The idea is that the government would give a voucher of, say, $5,000 to the parents of every school-age child. That money would come from public school budgets, naturally.

Voucher in hand, the parents can decide which school to send the child to. They can choose the public school that the child has been going to all along, or they can choose a private school, and rob the public school of yet more funding.

Conservatives say that private schools are better than public schools or at least that the competition that would be created would force all schools to improve.

Conservatives say that private schools are better than public schools or at least that the competition that would be created would force all schools to improve. Of course, the real purpose is not improvement of education, but a change in the nature of education. If all American parents could afford to send their children to practically any school they wanted, most conservative families would choose Christian religious schools.

This would severely undermine the quality of science education in America, as children are taught religion-based curriculums that preach creationism and ignore sexual education. Many would institute formal prayer in schools and, in some, probably actually teach the Christian Bible. After all, private schools are private and can teach any curriculum they want. Perhaps many would not become accredited, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt Bob Jones “University.”

But BJU doesn’t get any of my tax money. School vouchers would require non-church-going property owners to help pay for the religious education of children who should be getting their religion at church and not in “science” class. No other part of government uses our taxes to fund religious education or services.

Think for a moment about how a voucher system would actually work.

Think for a moment about how a voucher system would actually work. Tax money that currently goes directly to public schools would be parceled out as vouchers for each student. Parents who were previously unable to afford to send their children to private school could finally do so, either for religious reasons or in the belief that the education is better.

What would be the result? Students would flood private institutions, raising prices dramatically and making private schools (profit-minded businesses, after all) rich. Public schools would falter and fail one after another and would have to be consolidated. They would end up limited mainly to small towns and inner cities.

Private schools, now over-enrolled, would lose their edge as class-sizes swell. Private schools would likely change their curriculums to satisfy conservative parents. New, ultra-conservative schools would spring up to serve ultra-conservative parents. This would result in the overall quality of education dropping dramatically over the next decade. Private schools, preferring profit, wouldn’t bother to spend money on sports or other extra-curricular activities, making 21st century kids more sedentary and non-competitive than ever.

Religion would push out sexual education in many schools, and American parents would wonder why teen pregnancy and abortion rates have sharply increased again.

Religion would push out sexual education in many schools, and American parents would wonder why teen pregnancy and abortion rates have sharply increased again. Religion would push out math and science in many schools, and American children would be left to wonder why they can’t get into American colleges. And overcrowded, underfunded public schools would remain only to serve poor communities, and at an even greater disadvantage.

How likely is this doomsday scenario? Fairly. Many parents would probably choose their local schools anyway, so the rush of students out of public and into private institutions might be modest. But certainly it is the more conservative creationist-abstinence-school-prayer crowd who would run for the exits. This would divide Americans into those who studied unscientific science that has no value, and those who studied real science with outdated textbooks and no lab equipment.

That's a lose-lose situation.

 

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