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Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Simplistic Approach to Vouchers and one Heck of a Ridiculous Assertion

There is an article in a New Jersey newspaper about the push for private school vouchers coming from Lakewood which happened to be published shortly after my recent post in which I explained why even (political) Conservative, even a right-wing religious fanatic, might be ambivalent about school vouchers (how timely!). While the debate regarding school vouchers might appear to be Republican vs. Democrat/Conservative vs. Liberal, at least on the more Conservative end of the spectrum, there is both support and opposition.

Within the frum community, I've been watching the occasional political push for vouchers and I would label the approach to be 1) simplistic and 2) openly self-serving, neither of which is likely to help garner support needed to push through legislation.

Following is a quote from page 3 of the referenced article which highlights just how simplistic of an approach is being taken:

Cost-savings for the taxpayer of allowing students to choose an education at a lower cost, I think, is almost a no-brainer," Rabbi Shlomo Katz, a member of Igud, Lakewood Jewish schools' equivalent to a board of education, said in his testimony before the statehouse crowd in Trenton. "The only reason we have failing districts today is because there is no competition in education."

I really don't like being taken for stupid, and both of these claims are insulting to the intelligence of the American taxpayer:

1. It is most certainly not a "no-brainer" that there will be tax savings if current private school students were to receive vouchers to subsidize their private education. In fact, the fear that parents have that taxes could rise and/or their own children's public school education will suffer are not unfounded.

In my district, there is a long standing school board member that runs on platform of universal pre-school. The district already provides public pre-school to certain students with special education needs, as well as public pre-school programs and services to low-income students through Head Start. All other parents must either pay for pre-school out of pocket, or wait until Kindergarten to send their children to school. I'd estimate that with little exception, most parents pay for at least one-year of pre-school out of pocket.

Now as a taxpayer who believes that the tax burden where I live is quite burdensome, I have no interest in subsidizing a year of education that parents are already paying for (to say nothing of the issues of increasing the size and reach of government and requiring a year of schooling for this age group--so much for choice, right?).

When NJ taxpayers consider the issue of voucher and paying for private education of students already in private school, they aren't going to see "cost-savings" even if the schools are a third of the cost. Even where a taxpayer sees a public school system full of waste and inefficiency, as many do, paying for students that don't cost the district is still more than $0.

2. " The only reason we have we have failing districts today is because there is no competition in education." [Emphasis added] The only reason? This is such a ridiculous statement, I'm rather embarrassed that it was printed in an article.

Let's leave aside the education in certain schools of our own, for which there is a large amount of competition (I believe there are over 60 Orthodox Jewish schools in Lakewood for approximately 16,000 students. . . compare this to the district I grew up in for which there were 12 schools for about 10,000 students) could be considered lacking in certain areas.

You know it, I know it, and the American taxpayer knows it. Lack of educational choice is hardly the reason why there are failing students and failing districts! There are certainly strong arguments to be made in favor of education competition where students have choice through vouchers, one cannot ignore the fact that the rise of social ills (especially, but not at all limited to the breakdown of the family) has accompanied a decline in education. Blaming failing districts/students on lack of educational choice, something that has yet to exist en masse, is ignoring the elephant in the room.


tesyaa said...

I'm not a conservative and I happen to be in favor of universal preschool. Clearly you haven't seen kids entering kindergarten (or even first grade) with no educational background. It's not pretty. Depends where you live, of course.

Anonymous said...

Article from NY Times on the Hebrew Charter School in Brooklyn, looks like they approve.

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa-The kids who need pre-school the most are normally covered by Head Start or special education services and therapies, an area that has grown tremendously since I was in school. Certainly there are children who are not being covered and are unprepared for school, but I don't think that is a good enough argument to make pre-school mandatory for all, taking choice away from parents during these most precious years at tremendous cost to taxpayers and/or cost to other important public school programming that might suffer the ax.

Nor is it a good argument to pay for something that the vast majority of parents already pay for out of pocket. When it comes to choice and competition in education, I'd say the pre-school sector is actually quite competitive and even innovative and the facts simply don't show that Universal Preschool or amount spent per student translates into better academic performance overall.

tesyaa said...

Orthonomics - I am quite sure that in many places universal preschool exists, it's not mandatory.

Also, kids who need education don't necessarily need special education. If needy preschool kids who could be educated in regular ed receive special ed, the cost is fivefold or tenfold.

Miami Al said...

Florida has a program, VPK -- voluntary prekindergarten. You can use the voucher for any school. It provides for either a half day school year program, or a full-time summer program.

Some of us that were paying for childcare anyway are just getting a subsidy, but others are encouraged to help get the kids ready.

It's all voluntary, no obligation to use it.

Lion of Zion said...

i'm pretty sure it's not mandatoy in ny

i just post on that nyt article on hebrew charter school

RAM said...

Anyone from the Jewish community who asserts in public that a voucher system would help local taxpayers in general (and not only those using private schools) needs to provide persuasive, in-depth substantiation and not slogans.

Ariella said...

As RAM says, the argument would only be persuasive if they can back them with real numbers rather than sweeping assertions. In my own area school district there is a great deal of conflict between the yeshiva-sending parents and the public schools. This becomes very blatant during school board elections. Supposedly one year, when the public schools were planning to no longer provide bus service to the private schools, the yeshiva parents won their point by threatening to enroll their children in the public schools, which costs the taxpayers about $20K per student, they say. That would have broken their budget altogether, so they backed down. But it's clear that they still resent providing anything to the yeshiva population.

tesyaa said...

Ariella, I hate that false blackmail threat. Everyone knows that none of those families would let their precious kinderlach near a big bad public school! I can't believe a school board would fall for it.

Anonymous said...

Could be an urban legend.