I stopped by Office Depot the other day while I was out to pick up some envelopes for my wife to help her out with her job. I got to the checkout and the cashier asked if I’d like some stamps. I told him I didn’t need any. Seeing as how I had 500 envelopes, his curiosity got the best of him and he asked why I didn’t need stamps for so many envelopes. I told him my wife works in public relations for an advocacy group for the Louisiana scholarship program, and she’d be delivering the envelopes to state legislators. His demeanor changed immediately – he lowered his eyes, his smile vanished and there was an awkward moment of silence. He looked at me and stated with a hint of sanctimonious snobbery, “Well, I think that all the money they’re putting into the program should be going back to the schools.” His smile returned, he wished me a good day, I did the same, then walked out.
Given my list of tasks/chores for the day, I didn’t have the time to stop and challenge his position, and he probably didn’t have time at work to discuss it either. I rehashed our exchange in my mind as I drove around, and I chuckled to myself as I realized that his position fit the (perhaps overused) cliche that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” More money is thrown at the schools year after year, but the schools haven’t changed, so it’s clearly not a lack of money that’s the issue. Furthermore, it’s a completely uninformed, invalid argument. Louisiana saved millions over the past couple years by sending students to private schools; on average, it’s a couple thousand dollars cheaper to send a student to a private school than a public school.
If public schools are getting more money than private schools, then why are so many failing? That extra money has to make some type of positive impact, right? The problem is that some public school money goes where private school money doesn’t: teachers’ unions. Public school funding includes teachers’ salaries, which in turn gets paid to the unions. A union’s job is to ensure the continued employment, compensation, benefits, and working conditions of its members. Once a teacher has tenure, their continued employment is more or less guaranteed, regardless of performance, thanks to the union. There is no incentive for teachers to strive to do better when the union is ensuring the teacher can’t lose their job. It’s in the unions’ best interest to keep teachers in schools – that means that they are being paid in dues. Essentially, school funds go to pay unions to keep bad teachers in place. I know this isn’t the express purpose of the unions, but unfortunately, it’s the way the system works under its current setup. Furthermore, it is not in the unions’ best interest to drop support for failing teachers. A union would dissolve in no time if teachers had no confidence in its ability to protect their interests. Throw all the money at the schools you want; buy tablets and PCs and start every imaginable program and extra-curricular activity you can think of. Unless you replace the bad teachers with good ones, you won’t see change.
Unions see school vouchers as a threat. If students leave public schools, those schools don’t need as many teachers. As teachers leave the public schools due to fewer students (and go to work for private schools), unions see their dues start to drop, which is ultimately what they’re out to protect. There isn’t any good, defensible argument for keeping students out of the schools their parents choose, so they use anything from exaggerated stories to outright lies to sway public opinion (vouchers break separation of church and state, vouchers support the KKK, etc. etc.). What they’re ultimately saying in all of their hyperbole is that they believe a parent shouldn’t be able to decide where their child goes to school because they want their union dues. Why else would you fight a parent’s opportunity to send their child to a school they feel is a better fit for them?
Lastly, one common argument I hear against vouchers is that some families don’t qualify for the scholarship program, yet they can’t afford to send their child to a private school, yet these lower-income families do now have that ability. I will 100% agree, it is not fair that this is happening. It’s also not fair, however, that I’m paying into Social Security that’s not going to be there for me when I retire. It’s not fair that there are welfare recipients that eat finer foods than I do. It’s not fair that EBT cards can be used to purchase lingerie. It’s not fair that nearly 40% of my income is taken in taxes and given to people who will not work. It’s not fair that my tax dollars went to bail out GM and Chrysler. See what I’m getting at? There are many inequities in life, especially when it comes to the government and how they manage our forcefully-taken money. I agree it isn’t fair that some kids get to go to private schools on the taxed income of others who can’t afford it, but the thing to keep in mind is this is a symptom of a greater issue. Individual liberty and personal responsibility are now old-fashioned values that nobody wants to live with any more. People have attempted to vote themselves into prosperity and now we’re left to deal with the results. Don’t kick and scream about how unfair it is; make informed decisions about who you vote for. Challenge and change the narrative. To be honest, though, in this system we’re living with today, I’d rather my tax dollars go toward giving a child a chance with a good education than subsidizing their life in prison.
Yeah, I’m sure the Office Depot cashier didn’t have the time for such an ear full.