The title of this post is a sort of cryptic short-hand for a much-needed mantra in the school choice movement. In its entirety, the proposed tagline is “Vouchers are a Vehicle.”
For some time now, apologists for the status quo (the “Edstablishment”) have managed to successfully transform the word “voucher” into a sort of epithet or bogeyman. By combining disingenuous reasoning and simple repetition—AKA demagoguery or effective public relations—they have convinced a substantial number of people that if something is a “voucher,” it is automatically bad. I believe that much of this is due to a natural fear of the unknown that is present in many people. Even if public schools are performing badly, many figure it’s better to have the devil you know rather than the one you don’t.
First, it’s important to notice that this is a gross error. It substitutes prejudice for reason and, if taken to its logical conclusion, would preemptively prohibit any type of reform, repair, or improvement in any type of institution. This is problematic for an obvious reason: we owe it to all South Carolina children to give them the opportunity for the best education possible and one would be hard-pressed to assert that the current system achieves this goal. To improve, we must be prepared to change.
But back to vouchers. “Voucher” is simply another word for “coupon.” In this case, it is is a coupon that can be used to reduce or eliminate tuition for a church school, independent school, or home school expenses. In other words, vouchers are nothing more than a means to achieve an end—parental choice in education.
Vouchers are a vehicle. Vouchers are not the only vehicle for school choice; many argue that tax credits are superior because they are simpler. Whatever the means, the ultimate ends are more choices for parents, more opportunities for children, more educational improvement.
If public schools are the best possible option, they will win the allegiance of parents even after they have meaningful choices among schools. If, on the other hand, there are better options available, we have to make sure that children have access to the best choices possible—after all, they’re the future of our state. Public schools will improve either way since school choice leaves extra dollars in public schools for every child who enrolls elsewhere.
But giving parents the freedom to choose—and children the chance to excel—is ultimately a moral issue. We have to get our kids to the promised land of choice. Now if only we had a vehicle…