Yesterday, I made a case against school vouchers using a moral argument. Today, I will continue to make a case against school vouchers, but this time will use pragmatic arguments. There could be a lot of unintended consequences (as with so many government programs) and these possibilities need to be explored.
Let’s say that in a particular school district or in a particular county, the average spending per student is $12,000. Conservatives (and unfortunately, some libertarians) see the failing schools and unaccountable teachers and propose to institute school vouchers. This means that every parent of a school-aged child would receive a voucher worth $12,000, to be used for the school of their choice. Let’s explore some of the problems that could arise.
First, let’s say that you already send your child to a private (slang for non-government) school. As a parent, you realize this is a rip-off because you already pay property taxes and other taxes that fund government education, which you choose not to use but are still forced to pay for. Now that every parent/ child has a voucher, you will save money. However, you weren’t part of that $12,000 per student before. So if every child is given a voucher, the education costs will go up quite significantly, depending on the percentage of kids who go to private school. There will now be more children to spend $12,000 per year on because the number will now include those not attending government schools.
It would be completely unjust to not offer a voucher to those already in private schools. These parents would be really mad if that happened. But either way, there would come a point where every child would receive a voucher. In other words, government spending just went up and taxes will have to go up too.
Second, there are several reasons why parents might choose to send their children to a private school, even though they are double-paying (once through taxes and once to the private school). They probably think the education is superior. However, if vouchers are instituted, then that means any child could attend their school. Now, I’m not against poor kids going to a good private school if the parent/ child really cares about getting a good education. However, it is not hard to imagine that your school would all of a sudden be interrupted by troublemakers. The parents who didn’t care before, probably still don’t care. The same goes for the child. Perhaps the school could kick out big troublemakers, but we can’t even be sure of that (see reason three next).
Third, if virtually all schools are receiving their revenue from vouchers, then politicians will start to exercise control over these schools. It is not hard to imagine a politician saying that since these schools are receiving government funding, then they should have to meet certain criteria. Perhaps they can only teach a certain curriculum. Perhaps they can no longer teach anything about religion. Perhaps they cannot kick kids out of their school for misbehavior (see reason above). Perhaps they will have to give certain tests to make sure the children are learning the “right things”. When the government has control, there are endless possibilities. The really bad thing is that virtually all schools will be under government control in a voucher system, whereas at least now private schools do not have as many government rules and regulations to follow as government schools in most places.
Fourth, if every parent now has $12,000 per year to spend on each child for education, why wouldn’t education prices go way up? It would be hard to imagine a school charging anything less than this amount. Isn’t this the reverse of what libertarians want? It isn’t complicated that when government subsidizes something, prices usually go up. We can see this with medical costs and higher education.
These are just a few of the major reasons that libertarians should be against school vouchers. Not only are they not ideal for libertarians, they are not even a step in the right direction. They may actually be a step in the wrong direction, leading to government control over all schools and completely out-of-control government spending on education.
In conclusion, libertarians (and even conservatives) who advocate school vouchers should be careful what they wish for. It could be a dream come true for the advocates of big government.