Monday, October 29, 2007

OBF Endorsement: Referendum 1(Utah School Vouchers)

For the benefit of my three Utah readers, I announce my endorsement of Referendum 1, in favor of school vouchers.

Here are my snappy retorts to the canonical anti-voucher arguments:

  • Vouchers take money away from public schools: First, check your facts: in Utah, vouchers are funded from the state's General Fund, not the Education Fund. Second, yes, the public schools will lose money. Funny how they don't find it worth mentioning that they'll also lose students. It really shows what counts for them, doesn't it? Third, the voucher program can take at most a couple of percent of students from the public schools. Wow, that's a huge reduction in funds.
  • Vouchers are untested: we already have a nice means-based, federally-funded voucher-type program going on in post-secondary education. It's called Pell Grants. Also there's another one, not means-tested, called the GI Bill. Check them out.
  • Teachers at private schools are "unqualified": this is the argument which gets me the most incensed. I have a Master's degree in mathematics and 10 years college teaching experience, but I'm not "qualified" to teach math in a public high school. If I applied, they wouldn't even give me an interview, because I couldn't stand sitting through the political correctness classes that comprised the teaching credential. However, they wouldn't hesitate to give the math classes I would have taught to the P.E. teacher, who has a bachelor's degree in Phys Ed and whose last math class was College Algebra, which he passed with a C-. Which, by the way, he took from me (or someone like me). I could be hired at a private school though; in fact I would probably not have to do anything but ask for a job there. I've never been turned down anywhere I've offered my services as a math teacher, but the public schools would have to turn me down. So what were you saying now, about private school teachers not being "qualified"?
  • Vouchers won't reduce class size: I actually agree with this point (see the point above about the actual size of the voucher program). On the other hand, every year the schools beg the legislature for more money to reduce class sizes, and every year they get it, and class sizes still aren't reduced. When the legislature tried to earmark some of the money for class size reduction, the teacher's unions raised holy hell. Telling, isn't it, about the current system's priorities when it comes to actually reducing class size?
  • Vouchers don't help the very poorest kids to get into the most expensive private schools: DUH. The point is to help the very poorest kids get OUT of the public schools, when the public schools aren't serving them. Also, since when is "it doesn't help everyone" an argument against a government program? I don't get any help from Food Stamps and Social Security. Do you? If not, do you think we should do away with those programs? That there exists food that can't be afforded on Food Stamps (e.g. caviar and the freshest world-class sashimi) isn't an argument against Food Stamps, either. So neither is the existence of schools that can't be covered by vouchers an argument against vouchers.

    Also, there are more costs to public education than people realize. For one, many parents are having to pay for tutors already, to help their kids succeed in the public schools. I know, because they hired me. The parents are picking up the school's slack, but when the students then pass their tests, the schools claim credit. How is that fair to parents, especially poor parents who couldn't afford to hire a tutor and didn't know enough to tutor their kids themselves? How does that show there's nothing wrong with our public schools?

    And finally, everyone (even most of the pro-voucher people) seem to be ignoring the fact that if the number of students with $3000 to spend on private education is increased, more private schools can be formed, especially private schools that coincidentally cost $3000 or less. Here's a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: Say 10 students in Tooele get a $3000 voucher. That's not too much of a stretch, since the median income in Tooele is low enough that $3000 vouchers would be merited. 10 students at $3000 each is $30,000. Hire a teacher to do a one-room schoolhouse type deal, buy a whiteboard and some Singapore Math books, and rent an office room. I figure that you could do all this for an additional $50 a month per student. Poor families could afford that. However, poor families can't afford to send their kids to free public or charter schools in Salt Lake, even if they could get past the district bureaucracy (public) or 1000-student waiting list (charter), because of the expense of gas to drive from Tooele to Salt Lake.

    So don't come crying to me that poor people can't afford a private school education, because there are plenty of public school educations they can't afford either.
If I were Empress Of The Universe? I would create charter schools. So this is a second-best solution for me. But second-best is better than nothing.