Vouchers Undermine Liberty

With Colorado conservatives all atwitter over Douglas County’s adoption of a voucher program (see the Denver Post and 9News), now might be a good time to pause and consider whether vouchers advance liberty or undermine it.

Recently Michael LaFerrara has argued that a voucher program “is a statist ‘Trojan Horse’ set to destroy the private nature of private schools,” whereas a good tax credit program (along the lines of Colorado’s bill 1048) “is a means to more parental choice and less government interference in education.”

I have three main concerns with vouchers.

1. Vouchers put otherwise-private schools under heavier government controls. To take but one example from the present case, “The district also added a provision… to allow students to opt out of religious instruction at religion-based schools,” the Post reports. But presumably many of the leaders of those schools regard the religious instruction as fundamental to their school’s mission. Parents and schools should be free to agree on the terms of a child’s education (within the bounds of that child’s rights) without political interference.

2. Vouchers force people to finance religious institutions against their will. Secularists are forced to subsidize religious schools, Buddhists and Muslims are forced to subsidize Christian schools, etc. That’s wrong. The freedom of conscience, of which free speech is an aspect, entails the rightnot to support, monetarily or otherwise, the propagation of ideas with which one disagrees.

3. Vouchers entrench the welfare state. Whereas a tax credit reduces a person’s tax burden, and thus involves that person’s own money, a voucher forcibly transfers wealth. Vouchers thus sanction the propriety of forcing some people to fund the education of others. Obviously this is a big problem for anybody who advocates the individual right to control one’s own income and resources. If we take property rights seriously, then we must recognize the right of each individual to voluntarily contribute funds to any educational program he chooses — or to no educational program at all. (Obviously parents have an obligation to provide for their own children’s education.)

For more on this issue, please see the recent article from my dad and me,“How About School Choice for Everyone?”


John Galt commented March 16, 2011 at 2:01 PM
Agreed. Vouchers are not perfect. And yes a completely voluntary system with no taxation is preferable. BUT.

Given that that just isn’t going to ever happen while people value slavery and altruism, working within the system is the only way to do so. And vouchers are as far as we’re going to get within a system that assumes that poor people must be assisted or their kids won’t go to school.

We have to remember that Obamacare simply steals the current education funding model: Have everyone pay in, regardless of if they use the system or not, thus making it more “affordable” for those that do use the system. It’s just clearly a tax and not a mandate with fines.

What vouchers do is create competition. They also break unions because there isn’t one source to deal with. Further, they break the corrupt system of electing your own employer.

What it doesn’t do is guarantee that the government is going to stay out. I would say that the only voucher system that will work, is one where schools can opt out of taking vouchers (stay completely private), can determine their own curriculum and simply have to meet minimum standards based on national standardized testing AND NOTHING MORE. (and opting out is not a pre-requisite for any of the above)

Perhaps the best way is that schools that want to opt out of vouchers result in the parents getting a tax credit for the entire amount that they paid in for education up to the amount of the voucher (i.e. the tax would have to be clearly earmarked and not allowed to be touched by anything else) which of course with the exception of all but the very most rich would be lower than the amount of a voucher. If the school chooses not to opt out, then they have to ahere to non-secular principles and not teach religion and would be subject to the constitution and the bill of rights as a result of taking public money.

By doing so, schools could opt out, have no government interference, and those parents would not be using tax dollars to fund a Muslim school for example, while still ensuring that socialists would be ok with it, because they could still “Take care” of the “poor kids”.

One thing is for sure though. Vouchers are better than the status quo, and the best we can hope for given the flawed (and stupid) value system of most of America. The question then becomes, do we want to force the system to blow up, or do we want to incrementally fix it over time? John Galt or Dagney Tagart up until the final act? And only your assessment of how far down the hell hole we have gone can determine your position on that…

Ari commented March 16, 2011 at 2:56 PM
Letting the system “blow up” is a false alternative to expanding political controls over education through vouchers. I’ve already indicated that tax credits, now on the table, are far superior to vouchers. Beyond that, there are many ways to incrementally reform education: disempower the teacher’s unions within existing tax-funded schools, promote home-schooling and private schooling, etc.

John Galt commented March 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM
Tax credits do not work. 50% of the population doesn’t pay any income tax. That same 50% don’t own homes, so giving property tax credits is pointless too. Thus this system only benefits the “rich” and puts the “burden” on the “poor” parents.

Given that essentially all of the American population believes in Altruism, you’re not going to get anyone to agree in any numbers that would pass the bill, to a system that does not pay 100% of the bill for every kid in the system. There is no chance and I’m sure you know it. (I’ll ignore home schooling because that’s just silly considering most families must have two incomes to barely get by, and private schooling for essentially the same reason)

Thus you have to decide to play with what you can get through (vouchers is the only alternative currently on the table that can pass a state legislature) or just throw up your hands, recognize that the legitement position is never going to happen unless everything collapses and then help it along.

Come up with a system where 100% of all of the “poor” families have their kids’ education 100% paid for that isn’t vouchers, and you might have a winner. Until then, vouchers is it. Hence I push for vouchers because it’s better than nothing and hopefully will prove to people that competition is a good thing and that capitalism works. And that will get you to the next argument.

Ari commented March 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Dear “John Galt,” First, you’re nothing like John Galt. Second, I’m not going to post any more snarky, insulting messages from you. Third, you are fundamentally misrepresenting my position, which is not to “throw up my hands” and do nothing. Passing a voucher law that EXPANDS government control of education is not compatible with free-market competition or capitalism, nor have you even attempted to counter my arguments to that effect. There are many, many ways to advance liberty in education, but vouchers are counter-productive. -Ari

Anonymous commented March 17, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Let us focus on your #2. I agree secularist should not have to fund religious schools but what about the opposite? Religious folk are forced to fund your secular schools.

Why does Ari consider forced taxation from secular folk given to religious folk less moral than forced taxation of religious folk given to secular people?

Both situations are equally reprehensible.

The pro abortion, pro secular report you helped create seems to advocate theft so long as it is used for secular education and not for religious education. Your # 2 issue reiterates your taxpayer funded secular education stance.

The taxpayer should fund neither or both.

Ari commented March 17, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Dear Anonymous, Whey are they suddenly “my” tax-funded schools? I do not advocate tax funding for any school. I advocate the complete separation of school and state. However, the First Amendment rightly precludes tax funding for religious purposes, so that is an additional barrier. But I quite agree it violates the rights of religious people to force them to finance a secular agenda. (I have no idea which “report” you have in mind.) -Ari

Anonymous commented March 22, 2011 at 8:44 AM
Nothing could be more against the free exercise of religion than forcing taxpayers to fund public schools, then forcing religious taxpayers to pay for education twice — if they want their kids in religious schools. Blaine Amendments cause subsidies for secularists, penalties for the religious.

Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/education-114813-bigotry-board.html#ixzz1HL7Rn0J4

AriM commented arch 22, 2011 at 8:48 AM
So your argument, Anonymous, is that two wrongs make a right?

cawrigh commented March 23, 2011 at 5:14 AM
Joh Galt wrote, “Tax credits do not work. 50% of the population doesn’t pay any income tax.”

This objection is easily overcome by allowing people and corporations that do pay income tax to claim the tax credit if they donate money to educate children.

Chuck Wright