A blupete Essay

The "Voucher System", Part 6 to blupete's Essay
"Education & The Voucher System"

What are the choices for parents who wish to see to the proper education of their children. First off, parents can, and many do, take a more direct role in the process. They teach their children themselves (a time honoured and natural role); and, in addition, they shepherd them through the public school system, or, if they can afford it, send their children to a non-government school. Parents, however, who wish to send their children off for a private education are at a distinct economic disadvantage. They have to pay for two educations, the one represented by the tax supported public school system, the system out of which they have taken their child; and the other being the private education which they have chosen for their child. As it turns out, in the system as it now exists, only the well-to-do have a real choice.

There is a relatively new movement afoot, the educational choice movement. It has made more of an inroad in the United States, but it is making itself felt in Canada, and increasingly more so. This movement has arisen spontaneously from the grass roots; from those among us, taxpayers and parents, who can see the problems in the present system; and, further, can see that the resolution - by the very nature of the problem - cannot come from within but can only come from without the system. The movement seeks fundamental reform of the educational system through market orientated solutions, such as the contracting out of instruction, home schooling, franchised learning centers, and the voucher system.

The voucher system works this way. Each parent is given a voucher for each of their children. In Nova Scotia the voucher could amount to, say, $4,000 dollars (this amount would be less than the average amount that the provincial government now spends on each student in the province). The parent shops around for the school which best suits the needs of their child. The school sends a bill for its services to the parents, for whatever amount, and the parent pays the bill. For the family it becomes a regular transaction; its the same thing as buying a car or paying the rent. The only difference is that the parent can use the voucher up to the $4,000 limit to pay the school's bill.[13] The school, as an accredited school, would readily accept the voucher in that it can be readily converted into cash at the government wicket.

The voucher system will give an equal opportunity to every child, and yet, harness the wonderful forces of the free market. Every family will have a choice of where they wish to send their child for an education; it could not be more democratic. The family as a private contractual affair reads the curriculum and the private policies of the school and then chooses: chooses it for the religious training it gives, or not; chooses it because it gives musical training, or not; chooses it as a simple sitting service (as is the case for most these days), or not; chooses it because it gives advance courses in science, or not; chooses it because it administers the strap, or not; chooses it because condoms will be readily available in the washrooms, or not: all of this, and more - parent's choice. This is the beauty of the free market system, given a level field, a smorgasbord of educational services will arise from which one has a free choice. It is a responsive and cost efficient system which will naturally evolve and run itself. Imagine! No government involvement; no bickering; resources dedicated to the business of educating the young; and no escalating tax burden. Just imagine!

There is a school in Corona, California, where the administration, the teachers and the parents said, "Enough is a enough." "They called the parents in and they set up detailed contracts with them, even to requiring a dress code for the kids. They made parents aware that homework was going to be required and that they expected the parents to oversee the homework. They said they wanted parents to attend meetings a minimum of once every two weeks at the school. Arrangements were made for parents who did not own a car so they could attend meetings. No excuses!"[14] Here is an example of a school which introduced free market principles - where people are moved to do things on the basis of contract and not on the basis of who a person is, viz., "contract versus status.". This school became extremely popular to the parents in the surrounding area. So popular was this school, that parents were lined up "two nights before applications are processed to ensure that their kids get into this school," some with sleeping bags. The line up to the school, it seems, resembled the line up to a pop concert ticket booth.

Now, with such developments unions and the bureaucrats, you may be sure, are not too happy. However, it is clear, from the Corona school example, just what can happen when "parental choice" is introduced into the system. In the real business world, where one business is being bested, changes are soon made, changes that duplicate or reflect the successes of those businesses which are succeeding - a free market system, where it is allowed to operate, the "good" (as determined by impersonal voluntary choice) is duplicated and the "bad" (again, as determined by impersonal voluntary choice) is rooted out in a continual, day by day, month by month, year by year process. The market will yield up a fantastic variety from which parents can choose, at little cost, and with no costly and endless public debates as to what is "good" or what is "bad." Let the parents choose. It is really quite simple to implement, just introduce a voucher system and let all the schools, whether they are government or private compete for the vouchers.

The objections[15] raised to the voucher system are listed in the book, Free To Choose (New York: Avon, 1981). Milton and Rose Friedman deal with each objection in turn: the church-state conflict, it's too costly, it's too prone to fraud, it's racial, the poor wouldn't be educated, the ideal of equal opportunity for all would not be served (as if it is now), nobody will build new schools, and - the one that I like the most - every one will desert the government schools for the private ones, with the resultant lost of the government school system (we should be so lucky). The Friedmans put each of these questions nicely to rest. (See ch. 6.)


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Peter Landry

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