Today’s Orange County Register has an editorial calling for “increased school choice” for parents while making the argument for a school voucher program. The Register has a long standing editorial/opinion viewpoint that public schools are government schools and they argue that by providing students with taxpayer dollars assigned for public school education, they increase school choice options for private schools and thereby make public schools more competitive.
The Register editorial states:
School choice first was advanced in 1955 by one of our favorite economists, the late Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate who long was associated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His work now is carried forward by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in Indianapolis.
It its purest form, school choice involves providing a “voucher” or “tax credit scholarship” to parents, who then can “spend” it at any school, public or private
The fundamental problem here is that since the passage of Prop 13, public school districts in California often face huge budget shortfalls. Taking money away via a voucher is taking funds away from schools who already have a hard time paying their bills which enriching private schools. The reality is school choice already exists — those who can afford it can send their kids to a private high school. Is your student an awesome athlete but the family can’t afford the tuition? Some private schools offer “scholarships” to help defray the cost. There have been a couple of attempts to place school vouchers on the ballot in the past 20 years and they’ve failed miserably by margins of 70 to 30 percent.
Other problems with using tax dollars for “opportunity scholarships” as vouchers are sometimes called is that they’d apply to private religious schools, so using government vouchers to pay for this education is a violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state. Since private schools aren’t subject to rigorous oversight that public schools are, there’s always the chance they won’t act responsibly. Lastly and most important, a public school has to accept everyone regardless of disabilities, test scores, race, creed or color; a private school can be exclusive in the types of students it accepts. And if a student uses a voucher for a private school and gets expelled, the private institution has no obligation to return the voucher dollars back to the student, who then seeks access to the local public school which has to accept them without a dime of funds to cover the expenses of educating this student for the remainder of the year.
Want to make schools better? Our state representatives need to pressure our elected officials in Washington to fully fund special education and “No Child Left Behind” so the burden of unfunded federal mandates stop continuing to be a huge burden on a districts cost structure. Offer teachers better pay packages and make it more attractive for someone to be able to pursue education as a career; today’s teachers spend hundreds to thousands of dollars of their own money for school supplies for their students. Lastly, state legislators should lower the threshold for local school districts to be able to pass a parcel tax to make up for under-funded districts like so many of those in Orange County. Most communities can pass a parcel tax at 55 percent but its nigh impossible at 67 percent.
But the lesson of this editorial is that Californians have spoken — clearly — on the issue of school vouchers. They are against them in overwhelming majorities. But the Register’s editorial editors continue to push for this issue which is another example of how out of step the editorial writers are on this issue.