Join 3,559 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Vouchers are dead.
May 2, 2001 10:57 PM   Subscribe

Vouchers are dead. Every once in a while something good happens in Washington... and then we move on to more insanity.
posted by owillis (42 comments total)

 
You mean we're not going to have government financed religious education!?

Poop . . .
posted by aladfar at 11:24 PM on May 2, 2001


Hey! Give Dubya some time! This is just a setback. He's only been in office a hundred days, for cryin' out loud. I'm sure by the end of his term in office Dubya'll have paganism declared illegal and admission of aetheism will be considered treason. In God We Trust and all that rot. Don't be so impatient. It's coming.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:46 PM on May 2, 2001


It would sure make his daddy happy
posted by owillis at 12:17 AM on May 3, 2001


Vouchers are a bad idea anyway.
posted by lagado at 1:12 AM on May 3, 2001


Great...all the teachers at the Union must be jumping for joy. Long live unaccountability!
posted by Pacheco at 1:21 AM on May 3, 2001


Pacheco: welcome to Metafilter, where most of us like separation of church and state
posted by owillis at 1:54 AM on May 3, 2001


So do I. However, I don't think giving poor parents the ability to choose where their kid goes to school breaks this sacred wall. Besides, even if it does, there comes a time when we must resist stubborn dogmatism when faced with such a horrendous problem as our public education system. Thanks for the welcome :)
posted by Pacheco at 2:25 AM on May 3, 2001


I think that sacred wall should never, never be broken.

You cannot fix public education by siphoning money away from it. You fix it by making educators and students accountable within the public school system, not by funding churches with public funds.
posted by owillis at 2:42 AM on May 3, 2001


Should people not be allowed to give money out of their welfare checks or farm subsidies to churches or religious charities? Give me a break. I've got the same reservations as I assume you do about government grants going directly to "faith based institutions." However, I'm not sure how you have come to believe that giving people vouchers to use as they see fit has anything to do with church and state. There's other problems with the voucher plan you should go after. Church and state isn't one of them.
posted by Rockames at 4:06 AM on May 3, 2001


Should people not be allowed to give money out of their welfare checks or farm subsidies to churches or religious charities?

Um, as far as welfare checks go, that would be a no. They're supposed to use them to EAT and HOUSE themselves, not give my tax money away to highly polished and coercive con artists pushing nonsensical agendas.
posted by rushmc at 4:28 AM on May 3, 2001


GO RUSCHMC !!

Ditto his remark.
posted by a3matrix at 6:36 AM on May 3, 2001


> Pacheco: welcome to Metafilter, where most of us like
> separation of church and state

...and where conformity to the group opinion comes before anything else. Posted by MeFiClone#113174, I mean...
posted by jfuller at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2001


Bad form, owillis. I for one, think that the whole church/state separation has been blown out of proportion. The defeat of vouchers only shows that the interest of large, well funded organizations trumps that of individuals.

(Of course in this case, it's the noble teacher's union which is trampling individuals rather than the evil, evil corporations. And that apparently makes it okay.)
posted by CRS at 6:59 AM on May 3, 2001


You cannot fix public education by siphoning money away from it.

owillis: If I can infer from your post, it seems that you agree that the public school system isn't working. Why, then, are you worried about threats to it's existence? Yes, vouchers would siphon money away from the public school system, but only in cases where parents felt that they could get a better education for the same money elsewhere. Otherwise, natural laziness will win out, and parents will stay with the system they know and trust. Your argument presumes that parents will only stay with the public school system if forced to. Don't you think that's an indication of a failed system?

I live in Kansas City, where our inner-city school district recently lost it's accreditation. However, the school system has been pathetic for years. How do we expect these kids to break the cycle of poverty when we *force* them into failing or under-performing schools against their will? (A significant portion of support for vouchers, at least in Kansas City, comes from the inner-city). Remember, most upper and many middle class Americans can ALREADY afford to send their kids to private schools... vouchers simply extend that freedom to those who currently have no choice in the matter.

Oh, yeah, and free market solutions WORK.
posted by gd779 at 7:18 AM on May 3, 2001


One more thing...

As far as the church/state separation goes, you assert that vouchers would amount to state funding of churches. However, there's nothing that should or does prevent government from giving money to private citizens, then allowing them to spend it on whatever type of education they wish. Vouchers do not FORCE anyone to support a particular religious system (or a religious system at all) and therefore don't seem to me to violate that church/state line.

To illustrate, what is the difference between vouchers and an equivalent tax break? Obviously, if the government elects NOT to take our money, that money is ours to spend as we wish, regardless of religious affiliation. The only difference here is that the money is mandated to go to education. It *may* or *may not* end up in the hands of religious schools, but if it does, it's only some because people want and value religious education. Other people will spend it on private education, homeschooling, etc. Isn't the goal of good government to empower people with the maximum freedom to do as they wish? [In this case, to educate their child as they wish?].
posted by gd779 at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2001


If a kid's school isn't working, we should try and find what is, we don't dump more money into it hoping for it to magically improve (it generally doesn't). If a religious school provides a good education, why not? The first ammendment is meant to prevent any religion from having a privileged status, but if you allow them to go to any school, regardless of religious affiliation, that's not establishing a state religion. Allow the choice of public schools, charter schools, and private schools, both parochial and secular.

(I'm a heathen, but I hate our public schools.)
posted by dagnyscott at 7:33 AM on May 3, 2001


If it gets to the point when public schools aren't any kind of option because of the poor quality of education therein, and students are practically forced to go to a private school, you've got problems. Massive problems.
posted by hijinx at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2001


A lot of folks yammer on and on about vouchers vs. accountability. How are teachers in private schools any more accountable than those in public? In fact, it looks like they'd be even less accountable.

According to a 1998 Dept. of Education report (Barriers, Benefits, and Costs of Using Private Schools to Alleviate Overcrowding in Public Schools, most private schools would be unwilling to participate in a voucher program that required them to meet accountability standards in many areas.

The NEA (I know, they're teachers, so they must be wrong!) has lots of information on vouchers on their website. Their brief evaluation of voucher effectiveness is particularly interesting.
posted by ahughey at 7:52 AM on May 3, 2001


A school is exactly as good as its students' parents are committed to education.

So, be clear: vouchers are not a solution for many kids in poverty-stricken areas, because they were condemned before the first day of kindergarden by their parents' ignorance and negligence. No amount of money can change that.

Vouchers enable poor parents who do care about education to rescue their children from their degenerate neighbors, and that is a fine thing. They may even create a supply of quality education which a few gifted children of bad parents can use to rise above their circumstances, which is even better.
posted by MattD at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2001


AHughey: public schools in any middle-class and upper-class area, and all private schools, are accountable by market forces.

Parents who don't care for the quality of the education remove their children, which removes funds, which causes principals to be fired, teachers to be transfered, and non-functioning schools to be closed. It's a nice, efficient system.
posted by MattD at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2001


Market forces are your idea of public accountability in a public education system funded through taxes? Crikey.

I'm afraid that's just not how it works.

There are really few failing public schools in affluent areas because those schools get a lot more parent involvment and insist on much better equipment, etc. Their PTAs have the money and time to raise a lot of money to get stuff the schools don't pay for themselves. And those schools need less because those students get things like food and health care from parents.

On the other side of the coin, most parents don't send their kids to private schools because of "quality of education" it's based on the particular rhetoric and values extolled by those schools. Whether it's for the religious instruction and "traditional values" of faith-based schools or the elitist values of private academy/preparatory schools, the parents aren't looking so much for quality of education as for a specific environment and educational goals.
posted by ahughey at 9:13 AM on May 3, 2001


From the news reports I heard this morning, while vouchers have been eliminated, there are still school choice provisions. A student who is in a failing school will be able to transfer to a better school. It would still be a public school. But public schools would be competing for students and the accompanying funding.
posted by anapestic at 9:15 AM on May 3, 2001


capitalism is not a panacea!

MattD writes: "vouchers are not a solution for many kids in poverty-stricken areas, because they were condemned before the first day of kindergarden by their parents' ignorance and negligence... Vouchers enable poor parents who do care about education to rescue their children from their degenerate neighbors..."

i'm sorry did you just accuse the poor of being ignorant, negligent, and degenerate? that's offesive. and ignorant. and elitist. and gross.

ahughey asserts that "There are really few failing public schools in affluent areas because those schools get a lot more parent involvment and insist on much better equipment, etc..."

the reason why there are few failing public schools in affluent areas is because schools are funded in large part by local property taxes. this perpetuates a cycle of wealth, granting the best educations to the wealthiest children. and yes, because the leisure class has the time and energy to put into their children's educations there is often a great deal of parent involvement.
posted by palegirl at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2001


actually he said many, not all.
posted by Mick at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2001


I never said the public school system isn't working. Certain schools and school systems run by the government are working just fine.

Any attempt to create a voucher system causes two problems:

1. money is siphoned from the public education system
2. that money will be sent to private schools - the majority of whch are run by religious organizations, this violates the principle of separation of church/state

The goal of any sort of education reform should be to fix public education, not send money to religious groups. You fix public education by: firing bad teachers, not promoting students that have not earned it, introducing real discipline into the school setting, forcing parents to be involved in their child's school activities.

I never said public schools should have more money. That doesn't solve the problem. I do feel that there should be more equal distribution of money with regards to schools, I also feel that the money should come with strings attached - just like when you invest money in a stock, you expect it to provide returns. An investment in education should provide an educated populace. Anything else is a failure.

>...and where conformity to the group opinion comes
>before anything else. Posted by MeFiClone#113174, I
>mean...


My statement was based on the belief that most Americans don't believe that government should be involved in their religion, whether you're religious or not.
posted by owillis at 10:41 AM on May 3, 2001


Though it's already been done a bit, I thought I'd offer my own 2 cents on this separation of church and state argument:

Vouchers are (theoretically) based on the amount of money that a school spends per student. So, the money for a voucher comes from the community - the same source of funding for the school itself.

Now then, rich schools in neighborhoods with lots of money, tend to spend a great deal of cash on each student, and as such, it's rare that a parent would want to pull their child out of such an institution.

The poor school on the other hand has less money to work with. Were a child to opt out and take a voucher, they'd have even less.

But, because the voucher is comparatively small, a parent doesn't really have any choice when it comes to an alternative school that they can spend the voucher on.

Have you any idea what it costs to go to a private school? Here in Chicago, there are two private high schools, and both are extremely expensive - there's no way a parent could pay the tuition with nothing but a voucher. The only choice they have, therefore, is almost always some sort of religious school.

So, under the voucher system, poor schools will get progressively worse, rich and private schools will remain comfortably white and upper class (amazing how that always happens with Republican politics) and poor children with "empowered" parents will be trucked off to Catholic school.

Vouchers are synonymous with a gross violation of church and state.
posted by aladfar at 10:59 AM on May 3, 2001


It's an indirect link, though. It might not hold up under the law.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:03 AM on May 3, 2001


I'm not sure about the separation of church and state on this one, but what troubles me is the assumption that what you contribute in taxes is somehow still "yours." E.g. I pay taxes for the schools in my neighborhood, I don't like the school, I'm taking my money back (in the form of a voucher) so I can spend it on a different school.

Property taxes fund institutions and services that make life in towns and cities safe and habitable. If you think the police are doing a poor job, should you be able to funnel your money out to hire a security force to protect your family instead? Police vouchers? What about the fact that I never drive on the 101, can I get a refund on my taxes that pay for improvements on that road?

If people are unhappy with the state of public schools, they should work to improve them. Vouchers seem to me a selfish ploy to improve one's own situation (or child's) with a disregard for the needs of the community as a whole.
posted by megnut at 11:34 AM on May 3, 2001


We were all born into the system, and don't really have much choice in the matter. I do consider my tax dollars mine, as I never consented to give so much of my income to the community. When presented with choices, I vote to scale back the communities, to a level I think is appropriate. I don't have any children, but I have no problem allowing people to make their own decisions. If the supposed selfishness of the voucher system breaks the back of schools that do not serve, what is really lost? How good is the system if you have to force it on people and make them feel helpless? I am not a Christian, I have no motive or desire to fund those schools, I just like to see people allowed to make their own decisions.
posted by thirteen at 12:05 PM on May 3, 2001 [1 favorite]


And in the time that it takes to exact the kind of massive overhaul needed in most public school systems, my 2 year old will have earned a post-graduate degree. Are parents supposed to fight tooth and nail for the pitiful improvements that they can effect for the duration of their child's education in a public school, or should they do what's best for their children and put them into the educational environment that will best serve them? I think that the answer is obvious.

It's a pity that we continue to pay lip service to the this shaky separation of church and state concept and the mathematical and (il)logical fallacy about defunding. All of the hand-wringing over these ideas (which have not proven corrent in the few instances where voucher programs have been initiated, though the courts have squelched almost all of them by now) has done nothing but continue to guarantee that the status quo remains in place. The only children assured of even having a possibility of receiving a top quality education in this country are the ones whose parents have cash. Everyone else is told "If you want your children's school to improve, you'll just have to work harder."

It's not a very egalitarian position, especially not from the left wing who are supposed to be the ones who are in favour of making real strides for the lower classes, instead of condemning them to inferior services which only reinforce their inability to acheive success and to move out of the lower tiers of the social strata.
posted by Dreama at 12:12 PM on May 3, 2001


> money will be sent to private schools - the majority of
> which are run by religious organizations, this violates
> the principle of separation of church/state

Please remember that the "wall of separation" phrase is not in the American constitution; it occurs in an 1802 letter from then-president Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, and is thus one particular president's interpretation of the first amendment, not the words of the amendment itself. I grant you that the interpretation of a Founding Father may bear extra weight, but Jefferson wasn't the only FF and this particular issue was his hobby-horse; you can count on getting the most extreme interpretation of the first amendment from TJ. From the said letter:

> I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the
> whole American people which declared that their
> legislature should "make no law respecting an
> establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
> exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation
> between church and State.

(The phrase within "" is from the actual amendment, the rest is Jefferson's gloss.)

Jefferson, being an anti-Federalist, certainly never contemplated a nation in which the central government had a heavy presence in every area of daily life, as is the case today. The effect of the extreme wall-of-separation position is that 1) any area of life that touches or is touched by the State must be entirely secular and exclude any trace of religious expression; 2) the State touches all areas of public life and virtually all areas of private life; therefore 3) virtually all areas of life must be secular, and there is no longer any place for the "free exercise of religion" anywhere outside the actual doors of the home and the church. This right here is the core of what you can't expect religious people to accept quietly. It's like expecting a Buddhist monk to leave the Eightfold Way behind as soon as he steps out of the pagoda into the street.

There must be some places of refuge from aggressive, invasive secularizing. Either the state must abandon the wall of separation as it encroaches on more and more areas of life or else, if you insist on maintaining the wall, then the state must cease to encroach and start to withdraw until religious expression (for example, audible prayer) is allowed in a reasonable portion of daily public life. By "reasonable" I mean what it was in Jefferson's day.

I'm not holding my breath on either of these, obviously. If neither possibility attracts you (as I expect it won't), but you still don't understand why there is constant pressure to drag religion into the public sphere, then you're just being dim. It's because the "public sphere" has become too all-embracing and you haven't left enough refuge from it where "free expression" (words which are in the constitution) can take place. Give back some space and the pressure will relent. Don't, and it won't.
posted by jfuller at 12:17 PM on May 3, 2001


> You fix public education by: firing bad teachers, not
> promoting students that have not earned it, introducing
> real discipline into the school setting, forcing parents
> to be involved in their child's school activities.

None of this is allowable because it might potentially have disproportionate impact on some identifiable racial or ethnic group.


> It's not a very egalitarian position, especially not from
> the left wing who are supposed to be the ones who are in
> favour of making real strides for the lower classes,
> instead of condemning them to inferior services which
> only reinforce their inability to acheive success

I love the futile notion of "fixing" the public schools. Sure does help keep my kids in the oppressor class...
posted by jfuller at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2001


thirteen: breaking school's backs? yeah, no problem there

Dreama: I don't believe in an overnight kneejerk solution to a problem that will benefit your 2 year old, but screw up all the children coming after

jfuller: religion has no place in the government, or in state sanctioned school activity. you are free to practice it anywhere else you choose, and I would defend your right to do so

While vouchers are feel good, kneejerk legislation the damage they would cause down the line both financially and legally way outweigh any short term benefits.

(I love how a government sponsored boondoggle is cast in the light of aiding "those" inner city poor kids)
posted by owillis at 12:52 PM on May 3, 2001


When presented with choices, I vote to scale back the communities, to a level I think is appropriate. I don't have any children...

And I assume that you're a hermit.

Just out of interest: did MeFians spend most of their education at just one or two schools? I'm intrigued by the effects of the social mobility which distinguishes the US from Europe, so I wonder whether there's a correlation between the "success" of a school, and its ability to hang on to pupils for their entire school-life...?
posted by holgate at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2001


holgate: Between elementary and high school, I've been to six different schools in two countries (US/Jamaica). Out of all of them, the poorest school was also the most beneficial educationally.
posted by owillis at 2:10 PM on May 3, 2001


And I assume that you're a hermit.

We must never assume. I am quite active in the communities of my choosing, and rail against the cancerous growth of the default community I have little interest in. Since that community is the one holding the stick, I don't think it is too much to ask them to listen to me, when they take so much, and deliver so little.

I went to several inner city schools, I had no problem with them, but I do not have great affection for them either. I probably will have children soon, and I have no intention of sending the to any of the local elementary schools. There are some nice High Schools nearby, (if for some reason I am still round here) I will let them make their own decisions regarding High School.
posted by thirteen at 2:27 PM on May 3, 2001


It's not a very egalitarian position, especially not from the left wing who are supposed to be the ones who are in favour of making real strides for the lower classes, instead of condemning them to inferior services which only reinforce their inability to acheive success and to move out of the lower tiers of the social strata.

I'm torn here. Do I respond, "Well, Dreama, most liberals who are opposed to vouchers think that making a public school system work is of more net benefit to the marginalized than the system that would spring up under vouchers and thus do not view themselves as hurting the 'lower classes' as a whole by opposing vouchers," or do I respond, "Sorry, Dreama; we'll leave that job to the conservatives, who have experience at it"?

I personally think that much of the problem has to do with getting school money from local property taxes, and that neither reforming the public school system without addressing that issue nor instituting a voucher is going to have much effect, although I don't think that vouchers are of necessity a bad thing. (Although I think that vouchers will decimate the public school system for those who remain, which makes me more than a little uncomfortable.)
posted by snarkout at 2:57 PM on May 3, 2001


Sorry, Dreama, that snarkiness was uncalled for. I'd say about the same proportion of pro- and anti-voucher forces are concerned about genuinely helping children as opposed to other factors (hamstringing the NEA, an ideological commitment to minimizing the services provided by the government, preventing the growth of parochial schools out of First Amendment concerns, kowtowing to the NEA, etcetera).

The results of DC's experiments with charter schools -- something I do support -- have been disappointing. I'm not sure that parochial and extant private schools can deal with the number of students that private schools can, and while for-profit companies like Edison have had at least some success improving test scores, I'm not convinced that they'll stay in business. It's a complicated issue.
posted by snarkout at 3:21 PM on May 3, 2001


Owillis recites two of the most common myths about school vouchers:

1. money is siphoned from the public education system
2. that money will be sent to private schools - the majority of whch are run by religious organizations, this violates the principle of separation of church/state


First, vouchers siphon STUDENTS, not money, from the public education system. Our public schools have a higher per-pupil education cost than our private schools, and a higher per-pupil cost than many other countries who completely outperform us in objective education measures. I've never seen a voucher proposal wherre the value of the voucher is anywhere close to the cost of educating that student in the public school. Every student who departs for private school leaves some of that money behind, actually INCREASING the per-student resources available to the public school left behind. Since private schools are able to educate that same student at a fraction of the cost, our society gets more education bang for every voucher buck than it does by trapping that student in a fialing school.

Second, the church and state "wall" - which you'll find nowhere in the Constitution if you actually pick up a copy and read it - does not prohibit government money from going to private schools at the elementary or high school level than it does at the college level.

Meg characterizes vouchers as a "selfish ploy" - well, maybe for some folks. But I fully expect to send my children, should I ever have the good fortune to breed, to private school on my own dime. I support vouchers because I think they'll benefit OTHER people's children. In fact, some of the most strident supporters are minority urban parents - selfishly seeking opportunity for their children. Some of the strongest opponents to vouchers are the teachers' unions, who have an obvious selfish interest in stifling any sort of competition, and middle-class homeowners in suburban school districts, whose property value may plunge since it is propped up at least in part by being near "good schools." (Check the real estate ads if you doubt me.) I am sure there are well meaning folks on both sides, but if we must doubt motives, let's do it both ways.
posted by mikewas at 3:27 PM on May 3, 2001


Although 'left-of-center', I don't actually have a problem with vouchers in principle. But something tells me that, under any scheme that's actually implemented, the face value of one of these things is not going to be enough for a poor kid to buy a year at Andover -- to put it mildly. In which case, what it amounts to is yet another government subsidy for the wealthy.
posted by johnb at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2001


Hell, why have vouchers at all? Why not just dole out huge wads of cash for people to spend as they please either on schools, TV preachers or Vegas?
posted by lagado at 5:44 AM on May 4, 2001


Yah! Wads a cash...like that! Vouchers make about as much sense as hair on a cantelope.

Think about it. Do you really think any of the hoity-toity private schools are really EVER gonna take some black kid from the inner city that they can't throw out if he mis-behaves?

You be jivin' me and you if you be t'inkin' dere's any truff in vouchers being a solution. Instead...its just a way to subsidize the have's and further alienate the have not's.

From my perspective...inner city schools should be torn down and rebuilt to be things of beauty and then, PROTECTED with adequate staff. And the brave souls that teach in them ought to be paid like professionals. Inner city teacher oughta get $100k a year IF THEY DO THEIR JOB WELL. If they don't - they oughta be fired. Our country's future depends on reaching the unreachable and teaching the unteachable...and for that you need real pro's and they only way to get them is to make the money magnet draw them. Then hire 'em and fire 'em if they don't perform.

Instead, the system works just the opposite...the most challenging inner city teaching jobs are done in falling down buildings with outdated books and few computers...and the teacher are burned out and underpaid.

As for the cost...what do you think it costs to keep one person in juvenile incarceration? Try $88k/year. An adult cost $80k.

So, Mr. taxpayer...how'd you like to spend your money: 80k x 30 students a year for a total of $2.4 million....or $100k/yr. for a top shelf teacher and another $100k/for proper books, computers, and support staff per classroom of 30 kids?

I know which way my pocket book opens in that scenario.
posted by Jr2001 at 8:09 PM on May 4, 2001


« Older Two Air Force servicemen sue the DoD, federal agen...  |  This is unquestionably... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments