Vouchers May Entrench the Welfare State
by Ari Armstrong, March 26, 2003
Fran Docherty, a government school teacher, wrote in a March 26 letter to the Rocky Mountain News, "It is my sincere hope that the citizens of Colorado will see the voucher movement for what it really is -- a greed-driven sham perpetrated against Colorado families and students." She goes on to propose market schools are less accountable than socialized ones. "Greed-driven?" Docherty's comments seem to be driven by an emotional attachment to the dollars confiscated from others by force and then handed to her.
Inane prattle such as that of Docherty is largely what convinces conservatives and many libertarians vouchers must be a good idea. Alas, the enemy of our enemies is not necessarily our friend.
The proponents of vouchers believe they will immediately provide a better education especially to less-advantages students. In the long run, vouchers will pave the way to market education. Indeed, the preeminent proponent of vouchers, Milton Friedman, said the ultimate goal is a system of market schools funded solely by parents and voluntary charity organizations.
In a remarkable letter to the March 17 Rocky Mountain News, Colorado Senate President John Andrews writes,
Colorado needs parental choice of schools so all kids can grow up with the academic and moral preparation equipping them for citizenship in this free society. Government-monopoly education isn't reliably providing that... Americans support the separation of church and state as a safeguard against government control over what the individual may choose to believe or think. Some of us, for the same reason, support policies gradually evolving toward the separation of *school* and state.
Andrews is thus consistent and courageous in his advocacy of market education.
The free-market opponents of vouchers, such as Marshall Fritz of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, agree with the stated goals of those promoting vouchers, but they believe vouchers will actually impede progress toward those long-term goals.
The opponents of vouchers invoke two main arguments. First, vouchers will bring with them more government regulation of private schools. Moving from a system in which government controls most of the schools to a system in which government controls all the schools is hardly a step in the right direction. Second, vouchers maintain and even expand the forcible redistribution of wealth to fund education. Moving from a system in which government provides education welfare to most students to a system in which government provides education welfare to all students (under a universal voucher plan) is, again, hardly a step in the right direction. (Links to related articles are provided below.)
Recent developments in Colorado's voucher wars offer little comfort to the libertarian opponents of vouchers. For example, Jared Polis, the "dot com" millionaire who funded his own successful campaign to join the State Board of Education, wrote a March 9 Speakout for the Rocky Mountain News titled, "Salazar champions new direction in education." Salazar, of course, is the Democratic attorney general who recently came out in favor of a limited voucher program. Polis writes,
I agree with the attorney general that additional choice options should be carefully crafted and focus on assisting poor children, limit financial impact on public schools [sic], prohibit discrimination, meet accountability measures similar to public schools [sic], and initially be limited in scope to target inner-city children.
There you have it. Just as Fritz predicted years ago, vouchers are being hijacked by leftists who fundamentally support government schools and want to use vouchers to expand government control over market schools and perpetuate the welfare state.
Libertarian proponents of vouchers, however, will argue vouchers will in fact achieve good results, regardless of the motives of left-wing supporters. The new controls of market schools, argue proponents, will be slight. And at least the limited voucher program likely to pass in Colorado does not expand welfare payments to those currently in market schools or homeschools. Instead, it targets only poor children currently in government schools.
The libertarian case for vouchers rests on the potential for vouchers to dramatically alter cultural beliefs about education. When more people experience the benefits of market education, they will create a cultural force more willing to move to a completely market system. And, as Ralph Shnelvar has argued, market schools will do a better job at teaching critical thinking. Critical thinkers are less likely to believe government propaganda about education (or anything else).
Opponents, however, fear vouchers will sufficiently weaken the market system to dampen the cultural shift. Government programs almost always expand. Over time, the controls over currently market schools are likely to become more restrictive. Also, as vouchers expand and offer education welfare to the families of students who now finance education independently, the effect will be to further entrench the welfare state.