As everyone knows by now, Utah has passed a universal voucher program. That means that every parent in the state will have the right to choose their child’s school; the money will follow the child. But it’s important to remember that a choice is not a mandate—any school or parent who does not want to participate in the voucher program simply has no such obligation.
Now there’s a legitimate concern with vouchers that regulation will follow the money. Theoretically, if too much regulation followed the voucher, you would simply replicate many of the problems of the public schools. On the other hand, almost every voucher proponent wants some sort of regulation if only to prevent fraud and embezzlement. Getting the level of regulation right is a tough job but many of the important things life (e.g. being a good parent or an upstanding member of your community) are also difficult but necessary.
Back to Utah. Today in Utah, there’s a story indicating that “Some Private Schools Won’t Accept Vouchers.” Now, some people will say, “A-ha! This is PROOF that vouchers are bad, evil, wrong, perverse, stupid, and yucky!”*
They complain that this shows that the best private schools will still be off-limits to poor and middle-class kids.
This contention seems plausible at first but upon further examination it proves to be utterly misbegotten.
First of all, the purpose of vouchers is to give non-wealthy parents at least some option short of moving. Today, no one would deny that I have choices when I’m buying a car even if I can’t afford a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce. Choosing between a Honda, a Saturn, and a Toyota is still a choice. It’s better than living in the Soviet Bloc and having to wait on line and grovel to see if the government would allow me to have a Trabant. (Why must our education system resemble Communist East Germany? Don’t we know how that story ends? Can’t we—shouldn’t we— skip to the last page?)
Second, and perhaps more importantly, there’s no evidence that the schools that refuse to participate in vouchers will be larger in number or higher in quality than those that do participate. Either way, any increase in the number of options to parents is win-win situation for parents, children, taxpayers, and the state government. As opportunities for quality education increase and budgetary pressures on the state are lifted, the only losers are the bureaucratic status quo, the mafia-style unions, and the ideology of monopolism and conformist intolerance.
On the other hand, that vouchers will spread opportunity, expand freedom of choice, and replace monopoly-bred corruption and inefficiency with a new efficiency, flexibility, and dynamism is beyond dispute.
Perhaps vouchers will be overly restrictive on private schools. But if they’re discerningly designed and judiciously implemented that won’t be the case.
Message to fearful parents and skeptical schoolmasters: If you don’t think vouchers won’t work, don’t participate in the program. That’s your right and no one will stop you. But please don’t stand in our way as the rest of us march towards the Promised Land of liberty and opportunity for all.
* – School Monopolists actually talk like this.