I had two interesting (and unconnected) thoughts about the arguments being made in the voucher debate. The first thought came as I was hearing the argument again that vouchers take money away from our schools. Of course the voucher supporters argue that vouchers will pump new money into education as parents who use vouchers will have to put some of their own money in to finish paying for private schools. The difference between the price of a voucher and the per-pupil money being spent on public education also means that there more money left in public schools on a per-pupil basis (this is the foundation of the infamous Oreo example). In a moment of clarity, some voucher opponent argued that this equation did not take into account the overhead costs of running a school. It’s certainly true that the cost of lighting an elementary school is the same whether the classes are full of students or only half full. The thought that captured my attention was – if an average voucher leaves $5000 per student extra and that $5000 is not enough to cover the overhead that remains when a student leaves then I see a huge problem with public schools. We should not have 2/3 of our public education money ($5000 out of $7500 per pupil) being dedicated to overhead costs.
The other thought that has percolated in my brain recently is that voucher supporters have focused their defense on the financial aspects of vouchers. This is probably a wise move considering that every time I try to dig into the numbers of the voucher opponents I come away feeling that their arguments don’t wash. Voucher opponents spend an equal amount of time talking about social consequences (or potential consequences) such as desegregation. Voucher opponents – when they are not talking about the financial impact of vouchers put forth pathetic arguments such as “Hillary Clinton, MoveOn.org and Ted Kennedy oppose vouchers.” Sorry, but Ted Kennedy is a huge fan of breathing air and despite how much I disagree with him I don’t plan to give up that practice just to oppose him.
It is up to the voters to decide rationally what they believe about the financial impact of vouchers (where the opponents can’t seem to make a solid argument) and what they believe about the social consequences of vouchers (where the supporters don’t seem to want to bather with an argument). If voters make their decision based on an emotional response to the pro or con arguments then the state will lose on this issue whether vouchers pass or fail.
Personally I think that vouchers make financial sense and I have more faith in the choices that parents will make than the opponents of vouchers do who seem to suggest that parents will pander to their baser instincts until we create an economic apartheid.