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That is a gratuitous insult. Such parents have frequently had limited opportunity to choose. However, U. However, they are in a small minority. In any event, our present system unfortunately does little to help their children. One simple and effective way to assure parents greater freedom to choose, while at the same time retaining present sources of finance, is a voucher plan.
Suppose your child attends a public elementary or secondary school. You have to pay private tuition in addition to taxes — a strong incentive to keep your child in a public school. But whether the full amount or the lesser amount, it would remove at least a part of the financial penalty that now limits the freedom of parents to choose. The voucher plan embodies exactly the same principle as the GI bills that provide for educational benefits to military veterans.
The veteran gets a voucher good only for educational expense and he is completely free to choose the school at which he uses it, provided that it satisfies certain standards. That would both give every parent a greater opportunity to choose and at the same time require public schools to finance themselves by charging tuition wholly, if the voucher corresponded to the full cost; at least partly, if it did not.
Education Next is a journal of opinion and research about education policy.
The public schools would then have to compete both with one another and with private schools. This plan would relieve no one of the burden of taxation to pay for schooling. It would simply give parents a wider choice as to the form in which their children get the schooling that the community has obligated itself to provide. The plan would also not affect the present standards imposed on private schools in order for attendance at them to satisfy the compulsory attendance laws. We regard the voucher plan as a partial solution because it affects neither the financing of schooling nor the compulsory attendance laws.
State Role in Education Finance
We favor going much farther. Offhand, it would appear that the wealthier a society and the more evenly distributed is income within it, the less reason there is for government to finance schooling. Yet in practice, government financing has accounted for a larger and larger share of total educational expenses as average income in the United States has risen and income has become more evenly distributed.
We conjecture that one reason is the government operation of schools, so that the desire of parents to spend more on schooling as their incomes rose found the path of least resistance to be an increase in the amount spent on government schools. One advantage of a voucher plan is that it would encourage a gradual move toward greater direct parental financing.
The desire of parents to spend more on schooling could readily take the form of adding to the amount provided by the voucher. Public financing for hardship cases might remain, but that is a far different matter than having the government finance a school system for 90 percent of the children going to school because 5 or 10 percent of them might be hardship cases. The compulsory attendance laws are the justification for government control over the standards of private schools. But it is far from clear that there is any justification for the compulsory attendance laws themselves.
Our own views on this have changed over time. As already noted, such research has shown that schooling was well-nigh universal in the United States before attendance was required. In the United Kingdom, schooling was well-nigh universal before either compulsory attendance or government financing of schooling existed. Like most laws, compulsory attendance laws have costs as well as benefits. We no longer believe the benefits justify the costs.
The sobering reality of Cambodia’s free education drive
We realize that these views on financing and attendance laws will appear to most readers to be extreme. That is why we only state them here to keep the record straight without seeking to support them at length. Currently, the only widely available alternative to a local public school is a parochial school. Try selling a product that someone else is giving away!
The size of a public school would be determined by the number of customers it attracted, not by politically defined geographical boundaries or by pupil assignment. Parents who organized nonprofit schools, as a few families have, would be assured of funds to pay the costs. And most important, new sorts of private schools could arise to tap the vast new market.
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- Financing Education - Our World in Data.
Let us consider briefly some possible problems with the voucher plan and some objections that have been raised to it. If parents could use their vouchers to pay tuition at parochial schools, would that violate the First Amendment? Whether it does or not, is it desirable to adopt a policy that might strengthen the role of religious institutions in schooling? The Supreme Court has generally ruled against state laws providing assistance to parents who send their children to parochial schools, although it has never had occasion to rule on a full-fledged voucher plan covering both public and nonpublic schools.
However it might rule on such a plan, it seems clear that the Court would accept a plan that excluded church-connected schools but applied to all other private and public schools. Such a restricted plan would be far superior to the present system, and might not be much inferior to a wholly unrestricted plan. Schools now connected with churches could qualify by subdividing themselves into two parts: a secular part reorganized as an independent school eligible for vouchers, and a religious part reorganized as an after-school or Sunday activity paid for directly by parents or church funds.
The sobering reality of Cambodia’s free education drive
The constitutional issue will have to be settled by the courts. But it is worth emphasizing that vouchers would go to parents, not to schools. Under the GI bills, veterans have been free to attend Catholic or other colleges and, so far as we know, no First Amendment issue has ever been raised. Recipients of Social Security and welfare payments are free to buy food at church bazaars and even to contribute to the collection plate from their government subsidies, with no First Amendment question being asked.
Indeed, we believe that the penalty that is now imposed on parents who do not send their children to public schools violates the spirit of the First Amendment, whatever lawyers and judges may decide about the letter. Public schools teach religion, too not a formal, theistic religion, but a set of values and beliefs that constitute a religion in all but name.
The present arrangements abridge the religious freedom of parents who do not accept the religion taught by the public schools yet are forced to pay to have their children indoctrinated with it, and to pay still more to have their children escape indoctrination.
A second objection to the voucher plan is that it would raise the total cost to taxpayers of schooling — because of the cost of vouchers given for the roughly 10 percent of children who now attend parochial and other private schools. Universal vouchers would end the inequity of using tax funds to school some children but not others.
In any event, there is a simple and straightforward solution: let the amount of the voucher be enough less than the current cost per public school child to keep total public expenditures the same. The smaller amount spent in a private competitive school would very likely provide a higher quality of schooling than the larger amount now spent in government schools. Witness the drastically lower cost per child in parochial schools. How can one make sure that the voucher is spent for schooling, not diverted to beer for papa and clothes for mama?
The answer is that the voucher would have to be spent in an approved school or teaching establishment and could be redeemed for cash only by such schools. Voucher plans were adopted for a time in a number of southern states to avoid integration. They were ruled unconstitutional. Discrimination under a voucher plan can be prevented at least as easily as in public schools by redeeming vouchers only from schools that do not discriminate.
A more difficult problem has troubled some students of vouchers. That is the possibility that voluntary choice with vouchers might increase racial and class separation in schools and thus exacerbate racial conflict and foster an increasingly segregated and hierarchical society.
Much objection to forced integration reflects not racism but more or less well-founded fears about the physical safety of children and the quality of their schooling. Integration has been most successful when it has resulted from choice, not coercion. Nonpublic schools, parochial and other, have often been in the forefront of the move toward integration.
Violence of the kind that has been rising in public schools is possible only because the victims are compelled to attend the schools that they do. Discipline is seldom a problem in private schools that train students as radio and television technicians, typists and secretaries, or for myriad other specialties. Let schools specialize, as private schools would, and common interest would overcome bias of color and lead to more integration than now occurs.
The integration would be real, not merely on paper.