Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market
for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to
go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However,
private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have
a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids
private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in
fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.


  1. Don Lloyd:

    "...Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000. So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind...."

    You have to be careful with this argument. Average cost and marginal cost are quite different things. For the school to save money by losing students it is going to have restructure its operations to a smaller scale, reducing labor and real estate. Laying off teachers is at least as likely to be a cost as a savings, especially in the short term, and it would likely be a matter of luck to find private developers willing to pay a premium for a distress sale of real estate.

    Regards, Don

  2. Michael H.:

    The real reason why teachers unions and other pro-public school advocates hate the idea of letting students leave the public schools is because the political support for public schooling might evaporate. People who send their children to the public school might voluntarily vote for raising taxes for better schools but parents with children in private schools would probably vote down such a measure.

    I send my child to private school and it is ridiculously expensive. I am not asking for a voucher, but a tax deduction would be good. I think I am saving Fairfax County a lot of money by sending my child to private school (and average cost and marginal cost are almost identical for schooling). But there is no doubt that sending my boy to private school killed off any disire for me to ever approve an increase in spending for Fairfax County schools.

  3. Max Lybbert:

    Well, haven't teachers asked for more money per pupil, and smaller class sizes for years?

  4. Fluffy Bunny:

    I am a proponent of public schools. Society has a responsbility to make sure that every child gets an education. Moreover, public schools contribute to, if they aren't the base of community identity.

    Having said that, the argument both for and against school vouchers rarely addresses the real issue, how do we make sure our children are getting at least satisfactory educations? School vouchers would help those kids whose parents are involved and want to send their kids to betters schools. But it does nothing for the children whose parents couldn't care less. Those children are generally the ones who need help the most.

    In addition, school vouchers would have an ancillary benefit to allowing parents to get their children into better schools. Municipalities with "bad" schools suffer economically because people don't want to move there because they don't want there children going to those "bad" schools. As a result, housing prices decline, which hurts property taxes, which hurts the schools, and so on.

    If municipalities with "bad" schools had school vouchers, they would attract more people to come and live there. This is just a theory. It isn't substantiated by any research, just a hunch.

  5. Rishon Rishon:

    Coyote Blog and School Choice

    I recently added Coyote Blog to my blogroll. It's a great blog all around, and one of the the great things about it is he shares my opinion of school choice - that there's something in it for everyone, and...