Saturday, October 27, 2007

School Vouchers (wince)

Most of my loyal blog readers do not live in Utah. You might be aware, however, of the steamy fight going on over school vouchers. We will have a chance to vote on this topic next week.

I’d like to work out my opinion about vouchers here because I can think more clearly through writing. I don’t, however, want to crusade. I am deeply uncomfortable with animated, two-sided, engaging discussion when it comes to political issues. (Which is silly because I love it when it comes to literary issues.) Maybe because I feel more deeply than I can articulate about some issues. Probably it is from a basic insecurity because I know so little about political things and am terribly na├»ve when it comes to analyzing solutions. What I’m saying here is that I do not mean to try to persuade anyone. I don’t mind if you disagree with me, and I won’t try to change your mind. But this is my blog, my forum, and I don’t want to host a debate here. If you disagree with me, feel free to e-mail me privately (daryoung at yahoo dot com) and say why. The response you’ll get will be a polite thank you. I will most likely not read all of the documents and web addresses that you include in your argument. I am going to selfishly use this forum to state my position and then not let anyone argue with me here.

So sue me.

I am against vouchers. I’m going to try to articulate why. (And by the way, I need to tell you that my husband does not necessarily agree with any of the following.)

First, I am basically a democrat at heart, at least economically. Which means that I believe that it is the moral duty of a citizen to contribute to society—yes, in the form of taxes—for the good of others in the society who are not as able to take care of themselves. (I think, for example, that to cheat on your taxes, or to bend the rules on your taxes, or even to cleverly hide assets in “legal” ways in order to avoid paying your share is unethical and, frankly, dishonest.) I feel that it is my job as a Christian to look out for my neighbors—even the ones who seem to be lazy (because, maybe, their parents didn’t teach them to work?).

I feel it is our duty to make sure that not just our own kids but the kids of our neighbors should be taken care of. This includes all those kids on the west side that are such a drain on the property taxes of “us east-siders.” That includes the kids whose parents don’t care enough to research public and private schools and use vouchers to make sure their kids get what’s best for them.

If the voucher proposition passes, every child whose parents care about him will be put into the school, public or private or home-based, that his parents think will be best for him. But what about the kids whose parents don’t care, or who are overworked or undereducated enough not to be able to research what’s best? They will be left in the public schools. These kids are often the ones who use the most resources from the education system, in the form of teacher energy and other, more measurable resources.

And that’s an important point: not all children use the same amount of resources at a school. The amount that the school board reports as being your child’s share of costs is an average number. Actually, your child uses a lot less of that amount. The excess goes to pay for the children of other parents—ones who require more resources. Those kids will still be in the school after you take your money and leave. (But, you argue, the money I’m taking is extra. The school won’t lose money on my leaving. Au contraire. After a few years that money will be gone and it won’t be replaced.)

A common attitude is “Why shouldn’t I be free to do what’s best for my kids with my own money?” I’m good with that. What I don’t like is what you want to do with government money. And the point is that the money that’s been allocated for public education should be used just for that: to educate the public. Because I don’t care whether you’re homeschooling, private schooling, or childless: you are directly affected by the quality of education that OTHER PEOPLE’S KIDS are getting. Your society will suffer, and that suffering will influence you, if you do not support quality education for ALL kids. These are the kids will raise the kids will run the country when you are in old folk’s homes, people.

Besides being the Christian thing to do, it is IN YOUR BEST INTEREST to look out for the best interest of ALL kids, not just yours. I do not see how some—many, even—will be left behind in the voucher mess that will come about after this.

(And of course, if this passes, there will be more messes around the corner. What about when the homeschoolers start asking for vouchers as well? What about monitoring the quality of education that will come to kids whose parents start homeschooling just to save money? Where will the money come from to monitor them? What a mess.)

And to all you strict Repulicans who believe that when we leave more money in people’s pockets they will naturally, out of the goodness of their hearts, continue to contribute charitably in ways they think are appropriate, I ask: how many of you plan to donate money to public education once you take your voucher money and kid out? Really, will you double up on your property taxes just to help out the kids who were left behind?

My other big reason for being against vouchers is that I don’t believe that it is moral to whine that a system isn’t working and then jump ship. I think the right thing to do is to fix public education, not abandon it. People who are unhappy should join school boards, volunteer in their schools, lobby for more and better asset allocation within districts, etc. If all of the caring parents start jumping ship, it will sink. And, once again, what happens to the kids left on the ship?

I don’t know a single public schoolteacher who is in favor of vouchers. And why is that? You’d think that they would recognize that more private school students means more job opportunities for them, right? Well, it probably does. But the reason is that the kind of people who are choosing to become schoolteachers these days are doing it for only one reason: they care about education. There is NO other reason a person would become a teacher in this world. And the people who really care about education in society (not just about their own kids’ educations) know that the voucher system is not good for society.

There you go. I’m glad I got that off my chest. I will now duck so that your tomatoes don’t hit me.

p.s. In case you’re still with me: some of you are wondering what I think of the latest AML fiasco. I’ll post about that. . . once I can do it without profanity. Sheesh!