In the previous essay, I considered some of the arguments in favor of school vouchers. I now continue the discussion. Another set of arguments focus on the choice aspect, that vouchers allow parents to select education that best fits their children and education that will cultivate values. For example, choice proponents claim that vouchers (and similar programs) will enable parents of children with special needs to pick a tailored program not available in public schools. An obvious reply to these arguments is that the main reason public schools lack tailored programs is that they are woefully underfunded. Schools could offer tailored programs if they had the funding—so diverting public money to vouchers makes less sense than funding such programs. To use an analogy, this would be like arguing that public money should be diverted from community rec centers to private gyms because the rec centers lack the variety of equipment possessed by private gyms. If the equipment is critical for the community, then the funding should be used to get that equipment for the rec centers.
A third set of arguments focus on economic efficiency and accountability—the gist of the arguments is that private schools will be more economically efficient and more accountable than public schools and hence they are better. While I will not deny that public schools can be inefficient and lack accountability, I will also not deny that the same is true of private schools. Look at the nightmare of for-profit colleges to see what can go wrong in the private education sector. There is obviously no public sector curse and private sector magic—one can have bad or good in either domain. If a school district is inefficient and not accountable, going private is not an automatic fix—it also leaves all the problems in place in what remains of the public sector. Rather, the solution is to increase efficiency and accountability in the public sector—as has been done with many very good public schools. In the case of for-profit schools, there is always the obvious question about how they can do all that a public school would do for less, yet still make a profit. At the college level, the answer was that they did not.
A final set of arguments focus on how voucher and similar programs improve schools by offering competition. While, as a runner and gamer, I do recognize that the right sorts of competition can result in improvements, this does not seem to apply in education. First, consider the disastrous for-profit colleges. If the competition hypothesis held true, they should have been better than public schools and helped improve them. However, they ended up being vacuums for public money and disasters for their students. Public schools mainly responded by doing what they could to help their victims—I attended various meetings about what to do with classes for students who attended for-profit schools that were not accredited. Second, public schools operate at an incredible disadvantage in the alleged competition. They are more accountable than private schools, they must meet far more requirements than private schools, they are subject to state assessment and grading, they must accept everyone, and their funding is limited. To use an analogy, this would be analogous to arguing that giving places like Disney and Six Flags public money from the state park system would improve the state parks because of the competition. This would obviously not improve the state parks—they are far more limited than the private operations and already have far less funding. If we want better state parks, taking away money would hardly be the way to make that happen. Likewise, taking money from public education is not going to make it better.
In sum, while vouchers are good for some people, they do not benefit public education. The arguments in their favor are problematic, while those against them are strong. As such, vouchers (and similar programs) are a bad idea.