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Homeschoolers and Vouchers

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #29, 1999.

Should homeschoolers get involved with proposed voucher systems?

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Sam Blumenfeld

Most homeschoolers believe that a government-sponsored voucher plan would eventually bring the private schools that accept it under government control. We know that colleges that have accepted government money have had to adopt government-set standards, and we know that even colleges like Hillsdale and Grove City that have not taken any government money at all have been under pressure to buckle under government mandates. Both colleges have had to go to court to protect their independence.

Despite this threat to private education by tax-funded vouchers, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have opposed government vouchers because they would undermine parental and taxpayer support for the public schools, over which the unions have considerable control. The unions believe that permitting parents to choose private schools over public ones by using public funds would deprive the public schools of money that rightfully belongs to them. And they are probably right. Most parents have said that they would prefer private education for their children if they could afford it. Vouchers would make that possible. According to an article in Education Week (1/27/99), public support for private school choice has grown from 24 percent in 1993 to 44 percent in 1998.

On the issue of whether or not government vouchers can be used by parents to send their children to parochial schools, the U.S. Supreme Court recently sidestepped the Milwaukee voucher case that allows private religious schools to remain part of the Milwaukee voucher experiment. But what really frightens the anti-choice educators is the probability that vouchers that are now limited to the poor will eventually evolve into vouchers for all parents who want to get their kids out of the public schools. That would create the massive exodus they all fear.

But wouldn't a massive shift of public funds into the private schools merely make the private schools part of the public sector? That is one of the reasons why many concerned conservatives oppose tax-funded vouchers for all parents, for that would give the middle-class a new government entitlement and strip them of the responsibility of paying for their children's education out of their own pockets. We don't need more citizens taking money from government. We need less.

Meanwhile, a group of private individuals, concerned with the plight of the poor in our inner city schools, have launched a privately funded voucher plan to provide worthy students with educational opportunities they would otherwise not have. In June 1998, they created the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF). Entrepreneurs Ted Forstmann and John Walton established the Fund to provide $170 million in scholarship assistance to nearly 40,000 low-income children in communities nationwide.

Ted Forstmann strongly believes that free-market competition should apply to the service of education as to any other economic activity in our society. In a speech he gave at the National Press Club (10/28/98) he said:

Defenders of the status quo attempt to stifle debate by constantly saying that 90 percent of kids are in the public system, and therefore all resources and efforts must focus on the public system. But their premise should lead us to exactly the opposite conclusion. A system that can command - even enforce - a 90 percent market share is a system with overtly monopolistic characteristics. And as a country, we made a judgement about monopolies, and a hundred years before that founding fathers like Jefferson recognized that monopolies were inimical to freedom and competition. They were correct: monopolies always produce bad products at high prices . . .

The price of public education has gone through the roof. Since 1956 alone, spending in constant dollars is up from over $2,000 per pupil to nearly $7,000. And while the price has gone up, the quality of public education - whether measured in terms of SAT scores, NAEP scores, international rankings, parental satisfaction ratings, or simply basic safety - every measure has either stagnated or declined . . . The point is that in free societies like ours, what's normal isn't deterioration, it's constant progress.

We have nothing but praise for men like Ted Forstmann who are doing what they can to rescue some of the children from the trap of inner-city public schooling. What he says about progress surely applies to the homeschool movement where the freedom to innovate, create, and expand personal interests and horizons has made homeschooling the most exciting educational phenomenon in America since its founding in 1776.

It's a good idea for homeschoolers who live in communities where the government is proposing vouchers to inform their fellow citizens through letters to the editor or their legislators of the dangers of such tax-funded vouchers. They might also offer tutoring services to those trapped in the public schools. And, most important of all, they should let parents in their communities know that freedom of choice is alive and well and that the best choice is homeschooling.

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