Public Education School Choice and Vouchers

Unfortunately, the Democrats in Congress (and some Republicans) are pitching a fit over Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education.  The crux of their arguments seem to be that vouchers will somehow “drain resources” from public schools (though Charter Schools are public schools) and thus “ruin public education.”  They also feel that government money should not be used for private, especially religious, education.  These arguments are, how should I put it… rubbish.

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What exactly is “public education”?  Most if not all State Constitutions guarantee a fully funded public education for kids under 18.  This of course is a public good, and I know of no one who would oppose education of minor children. That said, my belief is that “public education” does not necessary mean brick-and-mortar public schools.  Put bluntly, district public schools do not have an inherent right to exist.  So when people talk about “draining resources”, the fallacy is that it’s somehow the district public schools right and any competition is somehow “stealing” resources from them.  Every school right now gets roughly the same amount per child. (Though at least in New Jersey there are disproportionate monies given to urban school districts as though more money = better education). So if the state pays the school $20,000 per year per child, then the parent keeps that money and spends it as he/she sees fit.  What’s important is not whether a particular school has resources, but whether a child has the resources allotted to him/her to get a quality education that benefits them, that’s what counts.  If the Charter schools, private schools, or even *GASP* a private home-school co-op is the preferred way for a particular community, then why shouldn’t they be given a chance?

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There is absolutely no Constitutional prohibition against public money for religious education. First of all, it’s already happening! Federal Student Aid such as Pell Grants are used all the time at private colleges, even religious ones.  When funds are dispersed to the student, the student may receive a refund which are applied to private accounts.  So Federal grants, and I would argue vouchers as well, are either private funds or being directed by private individuals (parents), therefore we are not “using public money” for private education.  Because the government itself is not deciding how the voucher funds are spent.

But even if you argue that interpretation, the idea of separation of church and state is a myth: When people talk about church-state separation, they’re likely referring to a quote by Thomas Jefferson regarding the First Amendment: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

What this means is that Congress cannot establish an official religion, promote one particular religion over another, or prohibit religious practice.  But none of this has anything to do with government funding, especially when those funding decisions are in effect being made by private individuals.  Violation of church & state only apply if we said, “Ok you can use the voucher for Christian education but not Jewish,” or if the government itself established or ran religious education. Then the government would be, according to the first amendment, establishing a religion.  But the First Amendment also outlaws preventing the “free exercise [of religion] thereof”  So separation of church and state, even if it exists, works both ways.

Many states that allow vouchers currently, do require the private education to meet certain eligibility and standards.  That’s completely fair!  But to just outright say that vouchers are bad and charter schools are somehow unaccountable and therefore should be completely done away with is ludicrous.

Many who think that religious private schools should not receive voucher funds do so because they truly believe that organized religion is evil and misguided, therefore ANY religious education is wrong.

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 The last argument I see is that Mrs. DeVos is just some billionaire and wants to “corporatize” public education.  First, like it or not, education is a business.  Don’t believe me?  We have private for-profit universities, private test-prep and tutoring franchises such as Kaplan, Kumon, and Mathnasium, not to mention the outrageous salaries and benefits of the unions’ own staff.  Many teachers make extra money tutoring on the side and they’re all to happy to whine and complain when the latest union contract doesn’t have a high enough raise.  The unions complain about lack of school funding, yet when people like the DeVoses put their own money into voucher programs, they complain! So the complaint that there’s “too much money” in education is a laughable hypocrisy.
Now, as to the “draining of resources from public schools:” If ANY organization (schools or any other business) is not doing its job, then it SHOULD have its resources drained and be shut down!  As I said, the district schools do not have any inherent right to exist and don’t have a “right” to funding dollars. School choice provides competition, and competition gives schools the incentive to improve.  The unions will say that we need to focus on improving the schools that are there already.  Okay that’s valid, but that aim is not mutually exclusive with the opening of charter schools, especially when many of them have lines around the block just to enter a lottery for admission.  Poor areas of cities are the ones who MOST need charter schools. If the education establishment really cared about the education of poor inner city minority children, they’d want to give the families more choices. Their “logic” seems to be that if the inner city schools are failing, the solution is to force the kids to stay there and pour money into them, and just hope that the schools magically improve, even though you are simply doubling down on the same people, schools, and ideas that failed the urchins in the first place! How does that make sense?
SIDE NOTE: Can anyone explain why the left are all about a woman’s choice when it comes to killing unborn children, yet when it comes to educating said children, they want to dictate for the parents where they get educated?
Yes for-profit schools are interested in making money. Many anti-choice folks genuinely believe that corporations are inherently bad, that no one can be a millionaire of billionaire without somehow “stealing” it from someone else.  Being successful in this country has been completely demonized.  If you’re successful and making money, it’s because you know what you’re doing.  Success is a good thing.  And by the way, how is that any different than politicians?  Do they not want earmarks for their constituents, money for their re-election campaigns, and the power of being in office?  You can’t convince me that business folks have any more “greed” than public officials.  The difference is that if a private school fails, they go out of business. If a public school fails, the unions cry out about how they’re not being funded properly, and if we just shake the money tree of the “super rich” then all their problems would be solved.
Tax money is TAKEN from the taxpayers to spend as the local government sees fit, regardless of the concerns of parents. How about instead of taking $20,000 (per student) in tax money and giving $15,000 of it to district schools who will turn around and waste a third of it on administrative costs, superintendents, layers of administrators, bloated union salaries and benefits, and “anti-bullying coordinators” and “diversity counselors”, in which case at best $10,000 gets to the classroom, how about letting the parents KEEP the original $20,000 and let them spend it as they see fit for their own children? That’s how capitalism works. Vouchers don’t “drain” money from anywhere. The money should follow the student, and if 80% of a community wants a charter school, why can’t the parents have that choice?  If Coke makes an inferior product, should Pepsi be prevented from existing because it’s “draining resources” from the Coca-Cola Corporation?
Suppose you spend $500 a month in groceries, but the government took that money and said that they will pay for your groceries, but they will tell you where you’re allowed to shop. Most of us would find that outrageous, yet that’s exactly what governments and the teachers unions are trying to dump on us. Or suppose you find a great deal on your perfect car at a downtown dealership, but the government steps in and says, “Oh sorry, you live uptown so you have to buy your car here.” The uptown dealership has less selection and higher prices but because of where you live, you have to shop where the government tells you to. Most of us would not stand for that, but it is PRECISELY what the current education structure is doing.
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As a final note, there are good and bad charter schools, and there are good and bad district schools.  The claim that charters are not accountable makes no sense.  First, if a parent feels that the charter isn’t doing well and their child would be better off in the neighborhood public school, that’s their choice as well.  Second, no one even thinks about closing down a failing district school, they just obviously aren’t funded enough.  They will claw and scratch for just more money and say that the public schools should improve rather than close down, thus doubling down on their failures.  Third the irony that the teachers unions already feel that district schools are TOO accountable.  They don’t want the students taking standard tests (which I actually agree with) and having teachers be evaluated by them.  That has its own problems which is the subject for another entry.  But they want the charter schools prevented from existing because some may fail, yet when a district school actually does fail they fight tooth and nail to keep it open.

Make no mistake – the opposition to charter schools, vouchers, and Betsy DeVos herself, is being made by Democrat senators who are deep in the pockets of the NEA, AFT, and other anti-school choice groups.  As teachers, we are (in most states) forced to join unions as a condition of employment.  So fewer district schools means fewer public school teachers, which means less dues money for them.  They complain about too much money in education and “billionaires wanting to corporatize education.” The Huffington Post claims that “Sitting Republican senators have received $115,000 from Betsy DeVos herself, and more than $950,000 from the full DeVos clan since 1980”.  First, they are implying that contributions to Republicans are inherently bad.  Second, here’s a bit of irony:

The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers made a combined over $50 million in political contributions in just 2015 alone, according to opensecrets.org.  The AFT and NEA SuperPACs in JUST THE 2016 ELECTION CYCLE, contributed $1.76 million and $1.65 million respectively to Federal candidates, ALL Democrats!  Yet DeVos’s $115,000 in TEN YEARS is somehow a sign of being against public education.

See these links for details:
NEA spending and recipients
AFT spending and recipients

What else do they do with that money?  Well they whine about too much money being spent by businesses and billionaires “taking over” education.

The NEA took in about $400 MILLION in dues in 2011 according to their DOL disclosure form, and had $160 MILLION in net assets.  (But that’s not greed, no it’s “for the children”).  $45 MILLION was used for political activities and lobbying (the same lobbying they accuse corporations of).
Here are some of the NEA’s top earners  (no greed or waste involved here, right)?
Dennis Van Roekel, President: $389,620
John Stocks, Executive Director: $379,260
Becky Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer: $332,539
Lily Eskelsen, Vice President: $332,390
Andrew Linebaugh, Director: $312,479
Cynthia Swann, Sr. Policy Advisor: $296,833
Donna Healy-Dean, Director: $282,244
Ronald Henderson, Director: $266,700
Sara Campen, Organizational Specialist: $257,7
Barry Melamed, Associate Director: $256,381
Ht Nguyen, State Affiliate Executive Director: $255,646
W McLaurin, Director: $254,636
Michael McPherson, Chief Financial Officer: $251,635
Michael Kahn, Associate Project Director: $250,684

From http://dropoutnation.net/2016/09/29/afts-costly-staff-spending/

“Start with AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, whose paychecks put her in the top five percent of the nation’s income earners even as she engages in class warfare rhetoric. The union paid Weingarten $497,311 in 2015-2016, just a couple hundred dollars more than she pulled down in the previous year…. Also well-paid by the union is Loretta Johnson, who serves as its secretary-treasurer; her $358,225 in 2015-2016 was a grand or so higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile Mary Catherine Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who now serves as the union’s number two (and in the process, serving as an obstacle to United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew’s ambitions to succeed Weingarten as head of the national union), was paid $311,311… Altogether, the AFT’s top three leaders collected $1.2 million last fiscal year… Two hundred twenty-two staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2015-2016… Three out of every five staffers at AFT national headquarters earn six-figure sums.”

Oh but Education isn’t a business and the rich are bad people, right?

Folks, these unions are extremely powerful and influential in politics and ironic to their protestations, they are much more in the pocket of Democrats than they even accuse school choice advocates of being to Republicans.  They get their influence by donating to Democrat lawmakers to get them into office, then they get “paid back” through generous union contracts, and legislation to protect their members at any cost, even if it means the inability to fire bad teachers.  This is mafia-like activity.  They are major campaign contributors to Democrat candidates, and they have a LOT of money to lose if school choice becomes reality.  They have no interest in the welfare of students, nor even the welfare of individual teachers.  They force teachers to join, take a percent of our salary by force, then spend it on outrageous salaries and political activities that are of little relevance to, and even go against the beliefs of, a significant portion of their members.  And then they DARE accuse those on the right of “greed”! So don’t listen to the lies.  Their objections are a smokescreen to their desire to dominate and control the education system itself, to have an uncontested audience of impressionable children whom they then train to be Social Justice Warriors, and do so with OUR taxpayer money.

(Edited on 5/5/17, minor spelling errors and typos)

2 thoughts on “Public Education School Choice and Vouchers”

  1. Great Post! It always angers me when I hear about self-righteous liberals claiming to be against corporate greed and the profit motive. Then you find out that they pull in enormous salaries and control massive budgets. If the government is doing it, so it seems then it must be justified. If the private sector is doing it, then it is evil. Excellent content here. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment and thanks for reading! You and I are in the belly of the beast it seems, though I consider myself pretty lucky that my school is in a red area.

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