The Truth about School Vouchers in My Town

On the local radio stations, the Perry Education Association — basically the teachers’ union of Perry Township schools, which are on the southside of Indianapolis — bought time for an ad to advance their views on the education reform that is being attempted. The ad starts out with what can be described as a country-like background beat and continues with Terry Rice, the president of the PEA making absurd claims about education reform that sound rather conspiratorial. While I do not believe any of the things he is saying, others may not be as well informed about the issues.

My mom, who works for Perry Township as a payroll clerk (she also supports the education reform) admits that Rice has to take extreme stances like “[the education reform is a] punitive agenda aimed at the destruction of public education,” in order to attract public support and perhaps a political victory. In the words of the great football coach Mike Gundy, “That’s not true!!!” 

In this piece, I seek to refute the absurd statements he makes, piece by piece.  It’s only a local issue, of course, but local politics are the easiest to influence.  Never pass up a chance at changing something for the better locally because it seems “too small.”  Now, on to the issue at hand.

Rice claims that “public education is under attack.”  Well, who is attacking it? How is it wrong to stream-line government, cut spending on the unnecessary, or offer parents a choice in their child’s education? I don’t think that the supporters of education reform are attacking public education (though that may be the eventual goal of some), but rather want to hold it accountable, know that our money is going to something productive, make public schools competitive, and not bankrupt our community or state.

 Another claim is that “the plan is to give your tax dollars to private schools that do not support public schools.”  Most people pay property taxes, and the average cost to educate a child in a public school across the nation is a whopping $10,000.   Private schools are often much more efficient; for instance, I attend Roncalli High School, a private Catholic school, for just $6,000 a year. Another aspect that must be taken into consideration is that the families who opted to use the vouchers would not longer be at the public schools, so the cost to the public schools would go down considerably. And, of course the private schools do not support public schools — they are private!

 Private schools operate as businesses and must be very efficient in everything they do, whereas public schools have what seems to be a never-ending tax base which allows them to operate at an inefficient level. I’ve heard a great analogy about this: It is like if you decide to eat at Burger King (the private school), but are still paying for food you are not ordering or eating at McDonald’s (the public school).

While I wouldn’t go as far to say that public schools should be eliminated, I feel they should have to compete with private schools through allowing the taxpayers to use vouchers or receive tax credits in order to send their children to private schools; it needs to be an even playing field. I know from friends that I have who own small businesses, and from basic economics, that competition is a very positive thing. Competitors feed off of each other and thus avoid stagnation or complacency. Competition is why we have many modern conveniences that have made life easier, like high speed internet or smart phones.

 Competition exists because someone says “I can do that better”. What the teachers unions seem to be advocating is protectionism. Maybe competition is something the teachers unions and opponents of vouchers should learn to do — innovate and become more efficient so they can compete with private schools in a voucher era.

Gary Varvel political cartoon

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