Mr. Gardner’s column about vouchers several weeks ago has another side to his thinking. First, he says that what is needed to improve the public school system is lots and lots of cash. Just like a liberal to say that when over and over it has been shown that throwing more money at a problem school has no effect in the way of improvement. Hays CISD spends $9,600 per student per year and Wash DC spends $29K per year per student with the 8th graders having a 17% proficiency in reading. That’s just one example among many almost as bad. Ok, we got that out of the way.
He says vouchers take money out of public schools and funnel them to religious schools and that should stick in the craw of those believing in the separation of church and state. Gardner is behind in the times by 15 years. The Supreme Court in 2002, the Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris case, ruled that vouchers given to parents, as long as they make the decision, to apply to another school whether it be another public school or a religious private school that will accept a voucher, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.
He says private schools charge more tuition than the vouchers provide so the financially disadvantaged families won’t be able to pay the difference. OK, Mr. Gardner, then let’s not even give them a chance.
A past president of the San Marcos ISD, Jim Neuhaus, sent his son to a private religious school in San Marcos because the boy did not do well in a public school setting – the tuition being as of today $3600 per year per student, well under the $5000 voucher the state legislature is considering. The teachers there are as dedicated to the students as any public school teacher. I know this because I know them. My two daughters went to Hill Country Christian School. There is discipline there, but it is sparingly used because they are taught ethics and behavior according to the Ten Commandments, which is nothing more than about relationships between God and his people and between His people and themselves. The teachers are paid much less than public school teachers, close to a 3rd, but they consider their services a joyful ministry.
In another article in the Hays Free Press, it was stated that Hays (CISD) kids are underperforming. A school board member said that, among other things, that they will need more input from the teachers how to remedy this deficiency. What a novel idea! So far from what I hear almost every teacher is thinking about quitting teaching. Before they do this they should poll the teachers about what’s wrong. Well, this has already been done. The results:
1. Teachers are swamped with CYA paperwork
2. They get little support from the administration
3. They get little support from the parents, and
4, which is kind of a surprise, is low pay.
No one is questioning the dedication of teachers. What has to be questioned is their working conditions.
Another oft repeated argument is that with school choice all the smart kids will leave. Then the test scores will go down. Ok, for the sake of test scores let’s keep the smart kids in schools where they have to teach to the slowest students. This argument just condemns itself. First of all, not even saying their school is underperforming, plenty of smart kids will stick around because they want to play sports on a high level that private schools can’t afford. Also there’s more variety in social clubs at public schools. Let’s let the parents of the students have that choice in where to send their children.
If Hays CISD gives a $5000 voucher to a parent, they have $4600 remaining and an empty desk. There’s extra money for whatever they want throw it at. How can they be against that?
What if vouchers don’t work?
Concerning his New Deal work programs, an aide asked FDR, “Sir, what if it doesn’t work?” FDR answered,” Then we’ll try something else.” (paraphrased for brevity).
The arguments against vouchers are old, worn out, and boring. And most of them are just wrong.
Ray Wolbrecht is a retired local dentist.