The Other Vouchers

Aside from concerns about a breach in the wall of separation between church and state, the left has expressed two major objections to the creation of school voucher programs to fund primary and secondary education:

  1. A voucher system would weaken the public school system by diverting funding to private schools.
  2. Parents might, for ideological reasons, choose to send their children to schools which teach children the "wrong" things. The hypothetical "wrong things" are always some form of religious fundamentalism, generally either Christian or Islamic, depending on the audience to whom the argument is addressed.

These arguments have been addressed elsewhere by others, and I'm not going to repeat any of that. What I want to know is: Why is no one making these arguments against all the other voucher programs we already have? The government used to distribute food to the poor directly. Now it mostly just gives them vouchers called "food stamps." Consequently, our beloved government food distribution system has withered away to nothing, and people sometimes use food stamps to buy the "wrong" foods. Where's the outrage?

Ditto Medicare and Medicaid. They're medical voucher programs. There are a few people calling for total nationalization of the medical system, but as far as I can tell, the general sentiment on the American left seems to favor a Canadian-style system (public funding and private provision) rather than a UK-style system (public provision)---in other words, they want an expansion of our existing voucher programs. Why the inconsistency? Why is it so much more important that schools be operated by the government than that health care facilities be operated by the government?

And then we have universal vouchers, better known as cash transfers. Instead of sending out Social Security checks, why not just move everyone over the age of 65 into government-run retirement homes? We could even bring back the poorhouse for those not old enough for retirement but still unable to support themselves. It may sound a bit harsh, but itwe can't afford to continue siphoning money away from our public poorhouse system, nor will it do to have the poor spending their vouchers on lottery tickets and such.

So what's so special about schools, that these arguments don't apply to any of our other voucher programs?

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I think you nailed it: the

I think you nailed it: the vast majority of private schools in the k-12 range are _religious_.

Now, maybe a widespread voucher program would encourage lots of private secular schools to pop up, but that will undoubtably take a while. In the short run, however, we face the prospect of our property taxes being spent to send low and middle class kids to bible school, which makes more than a few people uneasy.

Presumably the assumption is

Presumably the assumption is that education has a broader social impact. Education shapes minds, whereas food and healthcare merely shape bodies. (The latter isn't strictly true, but never mind the details.)

Misspent foodstamps might make one unhealthy. Miseducation might lead to more suicide bombers, intolerance, and other social ills. If your neighbour's sick, that's his problem. If he's a religious fanatic, that might well be your problem too.

If your neighbour’s sick,

If your neighbour’s sick, that’s his problem. If he’s a religious fanatic, that might well be your problem too.

Given that contagious disease caused by bacteria and viruses have killed vastly more people on this planet than religious fanatics, I would say this concern is backwards. Motivated by self preservation, I'd much rather share a train ride with snake worshippers than SARS victims, for instance. And it might be getting worse. Not that I hold much confidence in GovCo to keep us safe from either, but still.

I can't say I knew many

I can't say I knew many faith-based private-school attenders who ended up as religious fanatics. Actually, most of my peers who went to private school were less religious, or so it seemed to me.

To object to private schools based on the content taught by private institutions seems ass backward. Kids are taught the "wrong things" by any number of standards in public schools. Critical thinking, philosophy, the socratic method - none of these things were taught to me in public school. History? Well, that picture was pretty poorly painted for me in public school. I don't get it.

Increased religious education actually can deter religious behavior. Personally speaking, my dad has a PhD in New Testament theology and reared my two siblings and me as intensely religious kids - but smartly religious kids. The end result? Not one of us is religious as adults. Another example is seminarians: I've known a great deal of people who went to seminary believing in God and left atheists.

If public schools had a proven track record of manufacturing super well-educated Americans that had the tools necessary to be useful human beings, the left's argument #2 (as laid out by Brandon) might have some merit. But I doubt there'd be much support for vouchers if that was the case.

Yes, it's certainly

Yes, it's certainly questionable whether public provision has the utopian results we might desire here. But that wasn't Brandon's point. He wanted to know "what’s so special about schools", i.e. why utopians might care more about miseducation than misuse of other vouchers.

(RKN, I had in mind uncontagious problems like malnutrion. I'm not sure how misused foodstamps could give you SARS. In any case, I'd expect leftists to support government intervention for public health risks. So I don't think they'd support "pandemic prevention vouchers", for example!)

Absolutely no one complains

Absolutely no one complains when Pell Grants -- which are classic vouchers -- are used to pay tuition at Notre Dame or Brigham Young or Yeshiva University, but people throw conniptions over the thought of vouchers being used to send kids to St. Mary's Elementary.

Go figure.

:dunce:

Private or government

Private or government sponsored accreditation can handle the problem of schools teaching nutty or destructive ideas. If a school just taught memorized verse out of the Koran urging a jihad, it would not get accredited, and thus it would not get paid.
Other clients of government programs must face accreditation. The hospitals must be accredited to receive Medicare funds. Doctors must be licensed and credentialed.

My personal observations are that a lot of religious schools are very good at teaching fundamentals, but lack special education facilities. They do expose children to their religious doctrine but this doesn’t have a harmful effect. For example, I don’t see priests and nuns emerging robot- like from the local Catholic school system.

The real reason for opposition by the Democrats to school vouchers is that the Party is beholden to and under the control of various public sector unions, such as the NEA which is outspokenly a “United States labor union committed to advancing the cause of public education.” That means vigorously opposing vouchers for private education. So it’s a turf battle whose potential casualties are children.

Richard, I'm questioning the

Richard,

I'm questioning the merit of the left singling out schools based on religion. I'm not religion is the answer to the left's different stance on schools. That said, I didn't exactly supply any alternative hypotheses.

Here's one: the bell curve. The left is about leveling the playing field. Well, what that really means is subsidizing those with less by taxing those with more. In the school environment, it's putting the intelligent kids in the same class as the dumbasses. Even in more wealthy counties with better public schools, you still have a wide array of intelligence. Under a voucher system, the intelligence would further centralize into the best schools. The less intelligent (or those whose parents didn't try to put them in a better school) end up at the less effective schools. Thus, the smart get smarter and the dumb ... well, they just stay dumb. This isn't a level playing field.

The difference between public schools and medicaid/medicare/food stamps is that public schools are communities where the effect of the public institution is felt in groups and not as individuals. A less intelligent student benefits by being around smarter kids. There's also the class issue here, as well, but I'm going to stick with the bell curve/level playing field analogy.

Better?

"Psychos do not explode


"Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a f*&k how crazy they are."

-- Seth

Likewise, people do not become irrational no matter how much federally-subisdized food they eat or how many doctors they visit. (On second thought, I'm not so sure about that second example, but you get my point.) By irrational, I mean of course as defined by those leveling those arguments, which is to say "Republican". The two years I spent in Catholic schools didn't seem to have that effect on me.

My question is, how come nobody has these worries about the oldest voucher program (the GI Bill) or the scholarship programs used to recruit military enlistees? Maybe because they assume they are already Republicans and there might be some chance that they will get deprogrammed by the right-th..., ah, make that correct-thinking professors found on 90% of college campuses?

what’s so special about

what’s so special about schools [that they need to be government operated]?

Indoctrination of children into the collectivist mentality.

Unlike medical services and food, schools serve three socialist purposes. Most serve only two: control of economic activity (i.e., theft) and jobbery (giving cushy employment and/or benefits to friends). Both of these are forms of forced-based empowerment of the political class. They bribe supporters with stolen money.

Schooling serves these purposes, of course, but it also adds a third: producing willing supporters of the collectivist system. By dominating this form of economic activity, the State ensures that each successive generation will more thoroughly accept the proposition that only the State can provide education.

Government-operation of the schools is the only way to ensure this third purpose is fulfilled. By severing money from control, the indoctrinating content is weakened. (It is a childish fantasy to believe that vouchers will actually sever government-money from government-control, though. Whenever government doles out cash, it always does so with strings attached. Government uses these funds to control the behavior of the recipients. This will happen to so-called private schools, too, if and to the extent they become State-funded.)

In the earlier part of the 19th century, this pattern occurred in the context of roads, railroads, bridges, canals, etc. The government assumed more and more control over that activity (with the predictable results, of course: waste, inefficiency, corruption). Now, 150 years later, almost everyone simply assumes without question that only governments can build roads.

Miseducation might lead to more suicide bombers, intolerance, and other social ills.

Miseducation (from the socialists' perspective, at least) might also lead to more people to become attached to the idea of freedom, and thus become more intolerant of the growth of government power.

"Thus, the smart get smarter

"Thus, the smart get smarter and the dumb … well, they just stay dumb. This isn’t a level playing field."

The kids who are failing classes and dropping out with smart kids in their classes are still going to fail classes and drop out when smart kids are removed from their classes. Except maybe then they could receive specialized attention focused at their level without forcing brilliant kids into 13 years of pure boredom.

Jacob - absolutely agree.

Jacob - absolutely agree. Should I have noted that I'm totally opposed to any efforts by the government to level any playing field? Maybe so although I figured posting on this blog was likely evidence enough. Oh well. Fairness isn't something we're given nor is it something we can legislate. And trying does more harm than good. Thus, I'm totally opposed to any efforts by the government to level any playing field.

George nailed the issue.

George nailed the issue. Everything else is a symptom or a convenient cover to try and prevent peeling the onion. Go back to 1900, or so, and you see a serious and concerted effort by the Left to dominate the school system. This was followed in the 1930's and 40's by a significant effort to dominate the entertainment media. The reason why you would want to dominate these two areas of modern life should be obvious.

Richard, A malnourished

Richard,

A malnourished neighbor may be less threatening to you than a religious fanatic. But that only addresses the misuse of food stamp vouchers. My point was that to the extent that GovCo has vouchers for healthcare, those Bandon mentioned plus others, that the consequence to you of the misuse of those vouchers is arguably much more threatening than the misuse (eg. attending a religious school) of an education voucher. Notwithstanding Neal's argument, which I think is basically correct.

George: While I think there

George: While I think there may be a few hardcore socialists who consider lefist control of the public school system to be vital to the coming collectivist revolution, I would wager that most public outcry would be a result of

1. Vouchers are essentially state-sponsored religion, at least in the short run, and put the government in the dubious business of certifying religious institutions.

2. Republicans like them, and agreeing with the opposition never got anyone elected.

3. When the government pays for private schools, they stop being, um, private. Consumers (parents) are far less likely to check the price tag when someone else is footing a significant part of the bill, which is pretty much how we got a mess in the public school system to begin with.

4. If there are significant fixed costs associated with running a school (and I suspect that there are), reducing the student load by 50% will not reduce the total cost by anywhere near 50%, but in a voucher system it will cut the _budget_ by 50%, leading to either financial catastrophe or severe quality cutbacks.

#1 certainly enrages plenty of athiests on the left, but most major religions actually support collectivistic concepts, so a true socialist mastermind would probably _want_ young children learning that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", for example. #2 approaches a level of pragmatism that a true socialist would probably disdain. #3 is totally a libertarian/classical liberal argument, and would be anathema to most socialists.

#4, or a variant of it, is probably the central issue for the majority of the public voucher opposition on the left. There is a (not entirely unfounded) feeling that, rather than rise to the call and raise educational standards in order to compete in the free marketplace, public school systems would collapse under the strain. Every student that leaves a public school means even less precious voucher money with which to try and keep the rest.

1. Vouchers are essentially

1. Vouchers are essentially state-sponsored religion, at least in the short run, and put the government in the dubious business of certifying religious institutions.

This is a pretextual argument. The fact that some of the school-welfare money will go to religious institutions is no different than the fact that university-welfare dollars go to religious colleges or that medical-welfare dollars go to religious hospitals. Not only do I reject this argument, I reject the idea that anyone who makes it is even serious about it.

2. Republicans like them, and agreeing with the opposition never got anyone elected. ... [This argument] approaches a level of pragmatism that a true socialist would probably disdain.

Since when are "true socialists" not practical? They are exceedingly practical. They pride themselves on being practical. "The ends justifies the means" is the quintessential Marxist principle of infinite pragmatism.

3. When the government pays for private schools, they stop being, um, private.

I could not agree more. Which is why I have heard no one who thinks that government-run schools are a good idea ever make this argument.

4. ... reducing the student load by 50% ... will cut the budget by 50%, leading to either financial catastrophe or severe quality cutbacks ... [This argument] is probably the central issue for the majority of the public voucher opposition on the left

This is the mirror image of the supposed free-market argument. This is the main reason that deluded pseudo-free-marketers support the idea of vouchers in the first place.

But, even if we assume that this is, as you say, the primary motivation for the anti-voucher crowd, how is this position anything other than socialistic? It is based on the idea that people should be forced to pay for a service even if they do not use it, and use a provider of that service that they would not choose if they had any other choice.

More importantly, it is based on the idea that an enterprise be state-run, supported 100% by taxation. How is that NOT a socialistic program? How is this argument (that this program should not be de-funded by the introduction of an element of voluntarism into the tax-to-welfare stream) make those who propose it anything other than socialists?

Merely because they don't want to lose their "precious" tax dollars (i.e., money extracted from productive people by force) doesn't make them something other than socialists.

Merely because they don't self-identify as socialists doesn't make them something other than socialists, either.

most major religions actually support collectivistic concepts

Really? I did not know that there were religions (other than state-worship) that promote taking money from people by force.

sometimes vouchers work

sometimes vouchers work sometimes they dont.
the question is do the differences make a diference.
how many peopel must use the same product ad how standardized is it
how close are the individual's decisions likely to be to optimal (do they know what education they need?)
does the government know? (eg maths writing reading etc)
ETC
In NZ we had a "bums on seats" policy towards tertiary education we are stoping it now - I think that indicated that - interestingly enough - the government should have some input into what they should be allowed to study - particularly on govt money.

Joel: While I think there

Joel: While I think there may be a few hardcore socialists who consider lefist control of the public school system to be vital to the coming collectivist revolution ...

I think the point that is missed is one that George made already. The effort to control the schools by the Left was made long ago. It's a done deal now. It's an accepted fact by most in this country that schooling and education must be provided by the government, otherwise everyone out there will grow up ignorant and uneducated. This meme is so pervasive that private schooling and vouchers are viewed by those in favor of public education as conspiracies by the wealthy. Come talk to my neighbors in sunny California for an education on this meme.

Am I the only one who now

Am I the only one who now thinks Kiwis have either poor grammar skills, or are incredibly ironic?

Ditto George. But he's

Ditto George. But he's talking about why the socialist elite will never yield on the issue of vouchers.

The difference for the lumpenvoter between vouchers for education vs other kinds of vouchers is simple: Our Sacred Children. It takes a village, you know, not a soul-sucking evil corporation. To change how impressionable children are educated in any way is a threat to our connection to them; and if they are educated wrong the damage to our relationship to them could be incalculable. So we must micromanage as tightly as possible the details of their education; and that requires full educational socialism, not just the soft socialism of wealth transfer that works for other social problems.

I appologize for using

I appologize for using somewhat confusing terminology, because Eric and George seem to have misunderstood what I'm arguing.

Mainly, I failed to make a clear distinction between the extreme ideological collectivist (which I called a "socialist mastermind") who views the public school system as a means to indoctrinate impressionable children with political propaganda, and the more garden-variety socialist who views the public school system as a means to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn certain basic skills. Sure, both want to take my money by force, and buy a school system with it, but that's pretty much where the similarities end.

When I say "[this strategy] approaches a level of pragmatism that a true socialist would probably disdain" I was referring to the extreme ideological collectivist, who would never take a position purely for political gain, just like an extreme ideological libertarian (for example) would never argue in favor of the drug war just to score a few votes.

Common everyday socialists, however, have absolutely no qualms about selling out a few of their less popular ideals in exchange for political power. I did not mean to imply that socialism was incompatable with pragmaticism, but instead that _extreme idealism_ was.

_This is the mirror image of the supposed free-market argument. This is the main reason that deluded pseudo-free-marketers support the idea of vouchers in the first place._

I absolutely agree, which makes this whole arguing thing pretty silly. :mrgreen:

_Really? I did not know that there were religions (other than state-worship) that promote taking money from people by force._

But most extreme ideological collectivists do not consider state-mandated socialism to be the end goal either; they dream that once everyone has been forced to submit to it for a while, we'll all see how awesome it is ( :roll: ) and start doing it voluntarily, which actually is pretty much in line with Judeo-Christian philosophy.

I think it is that we have

I think it is that we have bad grammar:dunce:,
either that or we like annoying the english police :behead:.
We are actually pretty bad at irony.:beatnik:

To take another

To take another view,

Schooling <> education. Schooling is only one aspect of education. Education is something that you want to have in order to get it. One of my pet peeves is the conflation of schooling with education. Back in the "good ol' days ... yep I'm a boomer :)", there was this concept of formal education = schooling < education; and that there was more to education than sitting at a desk and having an old fuddy-duddy yapping all day.

Schooling will not improve as long as the heavy hand of government precludes competition. There is nothing sacred about a government owned and operated school. A bad government school is even less sacred. The point of the voucher system is to return some of the tax money improperly stolen so that parents can make choices. As it is, if you choose a school other than the government one, you pay twice. If you can't pay twice, then you're stuck; particularly if you can't vote with your feet.

Another pet peeve of mine is the leftist view that the group of people manning the government can do no wrong, while the group of people manning a corporation (a governmentally created artificial person) can do no right.

I failed to make a clear

I failed to make a clear distinction between the extreme ideological collectivist (which I called a “socialist mastermind") who views the public school system as a means to indoctrinate impressionable children with political propaganda, and the more garden-variety socialist who views the public school system as a means to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn certain basic skills. Sure, both want to take my money by force, and buy a school system with it, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

I disagree. The differences are aesthetic and superficial. The soft-socialist and the idealist agree on all of the fundamental principles. The rhetoric may be different, but they both accept the idea of the coercive state, and they further believe in the idea of the state using its coercive force for more than things like self-defense (i.e., anti-aggression). That's why they both support state-run industries, like schooling, the railway system, and the coming nationalization of medical services.

The distinction between the (avowed) Communists and the soft-pedalled American Social-Democrat is pure gloss and wrapping. The latter is a mass-marketed version of the former. They make the distinction for their own PR purposes, to distance themselves from groups that are politicallly unpopular, but whose basic ideas they agree with and simply want to implement more effectively. It doesn't mean that thinking people have to believe them.