Public schools in California: to voucher or not to voucher

I noticed some remarks today on the Kindleboards about vouchers and education and the public school system. It’s an interesting, vital, and inflammatory topic. It tends to quickly polarize people. To be honest, I haven’t read much of the learned analysis written on both sides of the argument. I’m sure both have excellent lines of reasoning. I have read, though, of many examples of the results of voucher systems. Also, my wife taught for a while in several local public schools. So, of course, I’ve got an opinion.

Hey, when did I not have an opinion on something?

Obviously, it’s not a simple issue due to the quality differences there are from state to state, county to county, and district to district. I imagine there are probably a great many fine public schools out there. They do not exist in my part of California. It’s a shame, because I know a lot of public school teachers who are well-trained, love their jobs, and are dedicated to their students. One of the problems is that the system is stacked against them. Here in California, the public school system is focused more on money rather than students. And more money doesn’t automatically result in better-educated students.

In fact, our schools here seem designed to enable kids to slip on through with a minimum of education, jealously shielding them from learning. The one thing the California public school system does do well, however, is teaching kids how to take assessment tests. They take lots of ’em. Scads. Hordes. That way, the public school bureaucrats can see how a school is doing in teaching kids how to take tests. Also, that’s how they figure out where the money should flow.

One of the problems with this is that knowing how to take tests isn’t a skill that means much later on in life. Unless you’re going to get a job as a bureaucrat in the California public school system and spend your days creating tests.

Anyway, it’s a pity that kids can’t focus more on learning how to read, analyze, write, and do math without a calculator. They know a lot about Snoop Dogg and Katy Perry, but they might have issues with long division. That brings us around to vouchers.

I’m mostly all for vouchers. If a parent can get their kid into some kind of private school or a home school setting that they think will get their kid a better education, more power to them. And if they do, there’s no reason the government shouldn’t write a check to them for the chunk of tax money the government would’ve spent on that kid in a public school. No reason except for the fact that there are a lot of public school bureaucrats who probably don’t want to lose that money.

I said mostly in favor of vouchers because I think there’s a better way than vouchers. I think if a parent has their child enrolled somewhere else than the public school, then they shouldn’t get a voucher. Instead, they should simply get a tax exemption. Why should Mr. Jones be still paying taxes for public school when his kid is going to a private school? I see a slight difference between an exemption and a voucher. Vouchers can be controlled by the government: you can spend if on this kind of education, but you can’t spend it on that kind of education. A tax exemption wouldn’t have strings. It would just be a tax exemption.

At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear the free market can handle education a lot better than public schooling, despite all the wonderful, dedicated teachers you can find in public schools.

12 thoughts on “Public schools in California: to voucher or not to voucher”

  1. So, do only parents of school-aged children pay taxes towards the school system in Cali? Here, it goes with your property tax. So my retired neighbour who lives alone with his cat (who does not, from what I can tell, attend school of any kind) pays as much school tax as I do who has two kids in the public school system. Why should Mr Jones be still paying taxes for public school when he hasn’t even got a kid at all?

    And you’re so German, it’s not funny. Opinions? Off kourse ve haff opinions! Doesn’t eferyone? 🙂

    1. No, it’s the same here. It’s part of the property tax. Good point about those without or no longer with children. I don’t think they should be paying either. Whatever form that tax should take, regardless, our public schools here simply don’t work. They’re horrifying bad in quality, over-crowded, aimless. They produce kids who, by the time they get to college, can’t even write a coherent paragraph, let alone express themselves logically in an essay (which begs the question as to why such people are even admitted and going to college in the first place? $$ We need more trade schools).

      I’m not sure what the public schools are like in Canada, but I hope they’re better than ours. The odd thing is (well, it isn’t so odd when you examine how our bureaucracy is structured) is that we spend more per student than many other countries, yet our students end up with much shoddier educations. Go figure.

      1. I used to sneer at public school education and homeschooled my kids to keep them out of the evil public system (and yes, we still payed school tax). But in the last few years, my kids have been in school, and I have nothing but good to say about the people they’ve dealt with. I realize we’re lucky (or blessed, if you will); it could easily go the other way too. But I’ve met some absolutely fantastic teachers and support staff, who bend over backwards to make learning happen for the kids. They’re really in this for the students’ sake. And I’ve actually found at least as many of those people in the public system as in the private school we dealt with previously.

        If you do away with school taxes entirely, you’re back to an “education for the rich only” system; it would mean that parents have to pay for their kids’ schooling. Mr Jones wouldn’t have to pay the $150/year on his property tax, but you or I would have to pay some $10,000/year. That system didn’t work so well last time it was implemented, 150 years ago; that’s why we now have public education funded by tax money.

        1. You’re very luck to have good public schools. Yeah, there are definitely good people in the system here too. I know quite a few, but the deck is so stacked against them. I’m sympathetic for them and what they endeavor to do, but kids come first, and kids do not come first in our system. Quite sad.

          I don’t know what the comprehensive alternative system would look like. Maybe some kind of private enterprise/charity hybrid? Dunno. Something needs to change.

  2. You force me to beat my drum once again. There should be ZERO technology in schools today – just like when I went to PS from 1960 – 1973. Schools no longer teach the fundamentals, the 3-Rs as we used to call them. And by teach, I mean drill it into their heads. You have to stand in front of a classroom of your peers and mispell a word a few times, get laughed at, get jeered at recess, before you learn how to spell. You must have your hand-written report handed back to you a few times with red ink all over it as your classmates look on and chuckle before you learn how to write well. You have to stand along-side several of your best friends at the chalkboard (Ok, dry erase) and have math competition that requires you to add, subtract, multiply and do long-division in attempt to win the ribbon for that day. Calculators? NO! Word processors? NO! i-pad, i-phone, i-anything? Leave them at home or they will be confiscated. Are the skills (I use that term very loosely) of technology important? Relevant? Necessary? Sure. Learn them outside of the classroom. What’s happened is we – all of us from Maine to Southern Cal – have decided all you have to do is run your thumb across the screen of a frickin’ i-phone, and voila, you have the answer in a split second.

    I don’t even know where I’m going with this rant. The subject gets me very riled up. I would have to say that the PUBLIC education this country had once upon a time was excellent. We have 120,000,000 baby-boomers to prove that. I think my own public education was outstanding! We’ve lost our way. Can we get it back? Absolutely! But not without revisiting the “vision” of what once “was” education.

    Whew. I made it without having a stroke.

    1. You, my friend, are way too sensible. If you were running the schools I’m afraid kids would actually learn something. However, nowadays, the little saggy-pant budding NBA stars and music stars must learn self-esteem and how everyone can be anything they want to be. That’s more important than writing and math.

      I get pretty riled up about it too. It’s sad, because children have so much potential, but the system is adamantly opposed.

  3. It’s why I am glad I teach at a private school! Parents pay to have their child educated and they partner right alongside us teachers. (Although, occasionally a parent will make me scratch my head, like the one who could not understand WHY her son could not plagiarize…) And, it seems like practically every election or term of a governor that comes up we try to get vouchers approved, but no go, although all those (parent) lawmakers have their child(ren) in private schools.

    1. Isn’t that a head-scratcher? All those lawmakers who vote against vouchers keep on sending their kids to private schools…hmm. Must mean something!

  4. My family has chosen to homeschool in our home state of North Carolina. We’re passionate not so much about home-based education specifically, but about parents of all walks of life taking ownership of and accepting the responsibility for the education of their children. If any given set of parents honestly believes that the best education they can offer their children is obtained by paying someone else to teach them — be it a private school, or a government-run public school — so be it. After all, we make similar choices every day about the best way to feed our kids (cook at home, or eat out), clothe our kids (does anyone actually sew anymore?), etc. As long as the decision is made with intent and forethought, I won’t fault you.

    On the one hand, it’s a bummer that I’m paying into the tax system money to cover the cost of an education approach and structure that my children are not benefiting directly[1] from. In fact, it’s a sort of double jeopardy, because we of course must also pay money for the curricula and tools we use for their education experience at home. So, sure, I’d love for the government to refund the money that I pay into the tax system to cover schooling costs (via voucher, or per-child home education tax credit, or whatever).

    On the other hand, I recognize the value of living in an educated society. I pay into the “education” bucket through my taxes just as I pay into the “pave the roads” and “please respond to my home security and fire alarms” buckets.

    — C-Mike

    [1] Or are they … with most of the town’s kids locked up in the public school system for 7 hours each day, we find that our field trip and vacation destinations are strikingly free of annoying and ill-mannered children. Maybe there is a benefit to supporting the public school system after all…

    1. Great point. Parents need to take ownership and responsibility for their children’s education. That’s the cornerstone problem right there. I think a lot of parents view school more as a glorified baby-sitting service.

      While I agree with you in theory on the value of living in an educated society (thus providing a rationale for still paying taxes toward public education), I’m not sure how that’s working out in practicality. In California, at least, it seems like we’re becoming less and less of an educated society.

      1. It would certainly seem that taxpayers should be rather up in arms about the apparent lack of return on our collective investment. Of course, that result is to be expected when many of the systems extant normalize the Result and, in doing so, discourage Effort. I’m afraid that without outright revolution against our entitlement-driven society, true progress will never be made.

        1. You, sir, sound like a rebel. Yeah, entitlements are our poison, dripping in from multiple IVs. I’ve gotten to the point where I have zero expectation the needles will be yanked out, unless it be by the juggernaut of social collapse.

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