The presupposition below that socioeconomic class differences won't worsen if we move toward vouchers does not make sense. Clearly, the education that a middle class person will be able to purchase with their voucher will be better than that which a working class person can purchase. Why? Because the private school sector is stratified by class and the amount that they'll charge folks with the SAME voucher amount will logically correspond to their purchasing power. -Angela
Sat, Mar. 26, 2005
It's Time to Give School Choice a Chance
By Gavin W. Pate
Special to the Star-Telegram
If you are unhappy with your choice of grocery stores, you might try another one. If you disliked the product selection at Kroger, you might go to Whole Foods. If you were dissatisfied with the pricing at Tom Thumb, you might get a membership at Costco.
However, if you are unhappy with your local government-operated schools, you cannot take your spending power and go elsewhere.
You are truly stuck.
Of course, you have the option of working hundreds of hours to pay your local property taxes, then working overtime and taking odd jobs to save enough to send your youngster to a private school. You want the best for your kids, but you are left with no viable choice but to hope that your school district doesn't go downhill.
That's not right, nor is it acceptable for the residents of Texas.
A school voucher program that would allow families to choose where their hard-earned dollars go is a critical step toward the future.
Harvard economist Carolyn Hoxby's study of voucher programs found an increase in academic performance of not only the students who chose to attend the private schools, but also in the students who chose to stay in the public schools.
We all stand to benefit since children would have more specialized attention in a setting where schools see the direct value of competition. The end result is a platform for educational success where young Texans have more of the tools they need to surpass expectations.
In 2004, Texans spent more than $10,000 per student who attended class regularly. A highly competitive private school can cost as little as $6,000 per year.
Certainly there are advantages to both schooling environments, and families should always have the opportunity to choose whichever benefits their children the most. But what we have now in Texas is a system that severely penalizes those with the smallest incomes.
Many families want a stable home environment and believe that a single-income family is the way to go. They then limit their choices of housing to what is within their budget. If dad works as a carpenter and makes $35,000 per year, they might live in a $75,000 house. This may be a less than prestigious ZIP code -- and that's fine. But you have now forced the children of this family to go to a school that may be mediocre in its approach to education.
Neither mom nor dad has a college degree. They both dream of more options for their children, but without a path to success, there is no reasonable choice.
The myth that if vouchers were allowed the wealthy will yank their children from public schools and the schools will become desolate wastelands for our boys and girls is not true. When Hoxby studied the effect of widespread vouchers, she found significant improvement in the public schools that faced the most competition.
This isn't to say that public schoolteachers don't care. Most of them do. But some are faced with the unenviable choice of entertaining children who don't want to be there, meeting standards that aren't properly funded and dealing with a cookie-cutter approach to education that is outdated for today's specialized economy.
When shopping for groceries, you have an endless number of choices. Some of us prefer to eat what tastes good, some of us prefer to eat what's healthful. Others choose to dine somewhere in between. But the bottom line is that we all have a choice. We are not forced to pay for something that we don't want.
Shouldn't we all have a choice on something so much more important?
But we must proceed cautiously. There are some heavy hitters in Texas who don't want to see such a program succeed.
The National Education Association is completely against vouchers on the grounds that they will pull money from public education. While this may be true, the goal of an educated society should not be to feed a government monopoly. It should be to find the most economical way to ensure the highest levels of education for all people that choose to pursue it.
In Texas we are all paying for an outdated approach to education that is not sustainable. We are dooming our low-income families to a poor set of choices: bad, mediocre or average. That is unacceptable and stands to limit the future of Texas.
Gavin W. Pate of Arlington is a member of the Star-Telegram community columnist panel. firstname.lastname@example.org
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