My good friend, Darrell Dow, recently blogged on his concerns about educational vouchers
-- in response to one of my recent postings
. (I'll post this here and in the comments section of DowBlog
.)Darrell's opening wraps up with: As with many libertarian and conservative supporters of vouchers, Eric believes a voucher program would protect the religious freedom of parents and students, result in taxpayer savings, and ultimately improve educational services by breaking the monopoly of state schools.
This is accurate as far as it goes, but I would have written it somewhat differently. These differences help me address some of his later concerns, so I'll go ahead and make the points here:
1.) I would say instead that "A voucher program would not necessarily compromise the religious freedom of parents and students significantly." (In other words, I would express this as a negative rather than a positive.) Vouchers might have the worrisome impact Darrell worries about-- for a variety of reasons-- but it is not necessary.
2.) I would add that "Greater competition would be an especial boon for those in the lower income classes, especially in the inner cities." In my view, this is a vital addition to the discussion, since we're talking about fighting against gross injustices propagated by the government against many of its most vulnerable citizens. One can easily make a Biblical case for Christian advocacy in such cases.Following up on #1:
Darrell has listed reasons for concern and examples to boot. Indeed, government control over universities has resulted in regulation (albeit modest). But food stamps have not resulted in significant regulation impacting the operation of farms or grocery stores. (The government regulation of salt shakers seems to be independent of its provision of food vouchers to the poor.) Is regulation of education a potential realm for government involvement? Yes, we see that already. Does the probability of thicker regulation increase
with government funding? Yes. Is it a given? No.
Along the same lines, the Shaw vs. Wallas debate in Darrell's opening is quite interesting, but only begs the question. Their positions resulted from their predictions about what the reform might do-- not what we know that it would actually do.
OK, so that's dealing with the government's angle. What about Christian schools? Would they be tempted? Some? Yes. Many? Maybe. All? No. How many? We don't know...Is the unknown cost of the temptation (which could be refused easily enough) worth the certain and tremendous gains to the rest of society, especially many of its most vulnerable members? I think so...
Darrell also expresses concerns about vouchers inflating the cost of education: As a practical matter, would vouchers decrease the cost of education by making services more efficient? Have Medicare and Medicaid decreased the cost of health care? Have Pell Grants, the GI Bill and other forms of federal aid decreased the cost of a college education? Similarly, it is likely that vouchers would increase the cost of private education. Dumping money willy nilly into schools that by and large operate frugally and efficiently compared to government schools is simply a recipe for educational inflation.
The analogy doesn't work (or at the least, is weaker than supposed) since the larger issues with health care and government involvement are its subsidies for purchasing health insurance. Because health insurance comes through the firm and is not taxed, it is subsidized as a non-taxed form of compensation. In addition, firms often have slight economies of scale in purchasing insurance services in bulk. The result is, ironically, over
-insurance for most of those who have it-- with too many services covered and co-pays/deductibles that are too low.
This may sound counter-intuitive at first. But consider the role that insurance usually plays; it generally protects the insured from rare, catastrophic events. In contrast, health insurance covers everything
-- from allergy shots to cancer. By analogy, car insurance would provide coverage for oil changes, door dings, air filter and tire changes, etc. Imagine how expensive such "insurance" would be, how screwed up our market for car insurance would become, the tremendous paperwork generated by such "insurance", how expensive such routine services would become, etc.
Second, the cost of college education has increased, mostly, due to reduced subsidies from state government. Tuition is higher as a result. Thus, the cost to consumers has increased. But the overall cost-- to consumers and taxpayers-- has increased much more modestly.
Bottom line: vouchers, if constructed well, would put little if any upward pressure on costs-- especially compared to the current cost disincentives of operating a government monopoly!
I agree with Darrell about ideal policy and about the Christian imperative that education would be largely/primarily a matter of the family. And I share his concerns about the potential for a connection between government funding and regulation. I think we both agree about the practical impact of vouchers in the market for education. But we differ on the magnitude of that concern-- and the desire to reach for "compromise" measures that would clearly do much good in the face of current injustice.