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Curmudgucation: Voucher Bankruptcy's Feature Future

It is no longer news that school voucher programs lead to increasing costs, costs that swiftly balloon to suck up extraordinary piles of taxpayer dollars in state after state, threatening to bust the budget

Public education advocates have been pointing this out in state after state, arguing that vouchers are way more costly than any of the advocates promise.

It's a legitimate point, a solid reason for states to think twice before jumping on the voucher money wagon. 

Unfortunately, I can easily imagine a future in which this same argument (and perhaps the critique that voucher programs yield unspectacular results) comes back from an entirely different source. Right now we're at this early voucher policy stage:

Let's give vouchers to everyone and make choice freely available far and wide!

But further down the road, once the voucher system is firmly entrenched and the traditional public school system has been largely gutted, we may find ourselves turning a corner, and suddenly a bunch of folks will be disturbed and alarmed by the high cost of a voucher program. 

Boy, we are spending so much on school vouchers in this state (and not even getting great results). Surely we can cut the amount we're spending per pupil on this private school entitlement.

Maybe there will be special carve-outs for specific students, so that it's not so obvious that poorer families are being cut loose or driven into sub-prime private schools. But once the voucher system has captured a critical number of students and cut its public competition off at the knees, it could safely be squeezed. 

A portion of the education choice and reform crowd has always been folks who don't want to pay to educate Those Peoples' Children. For those folks, vouchers, including the ballooning costs and the lousy results, are another way to get to that world in which everyone has to pay their own way. 

Vouchers get us to the place of considering education a privately-purchased commodity instead of a public good, a service provided to and for all citizens. Once we've established that it's a privately-purchased commodity, then vouchers are just one more bit of welfare, another entitlement to be cut so that the Poors aren't a drag on the folks with resources. 

So for some folks, the huge cost of voucher programs is a feature, not a bug. It's just a feature that won't be activated until the time is right. 


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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...