Will vouchers encourage the creation of radical schools?


It is foolish to assert that "radical" schools will result from breaking down the financial barriers that today prevent low-income parents from choosing a better or safer school for their children. This notion, used by the opponents of education reform to scare people into opposing school choice, not only defies common sense and all the evidence, but also begs the question of who defines what is "radical."

The argument usually runs something like this: If parents are allowed more freedom to choose where their children go to school, what's to stop the Ku Klux Klan or a coven of witches from opening their own racist or magic schools?

The answer is: The same thing that prevents them from opening their own racist or magic schools or colleges now, which is the fact that insufficient demand exists among parents to send their children to such places. How could these schools stay in business if no one wants to attend them?

Both common sense and the evidence prove that this concern is meritless. First, in order to believe that poor and middle class parents would, given the same educational opportunities that wealthy parents now enjoy, make bad choices in number large enough to support "radical" schools, one must believe that these parents don't love or care about their children as much as wealthy parents care about theirs.

This elitist assumption is untrue. Poor parents care just as much for their children as more affluent parents, which is one reason why over 70 percent of low-income parents support expanded school choice. Unfortunately, under the current system, in which the government assigns children to schools based on where they live, these concerned parents just do not have the freedom or ability to send their children to the best and safest schools. They are trapped in a government system in which only the well-to-do can rescue their children from failing schools by either moving or paying tuition to a private school.

Furthermore, what parent, even one who holds "radical" views, is going to send his or her child to a "radical" school? Will that child get into college with a diploma from "Ku Klux Klan Academy?" Will that child get a job after listing "Militia High School" on his application? Whether by name or reputation, a "radical" school education would damage future prospects for success, even success as a "radical."

The claim that "radical" schools will proliferate also defies common-sense economics. Because of high parent demand, Michigan has 1,056 nonpublic schools that serve families from every ethnic group and socioeconomic background, and not one is a "radical" school. Such schools can survive only by satisfying enough parents to make the schools financially viable with much tighter budgets than public schools. Private schools in Michigan receive on average $3,100 in tuition to educate a child, whereas public schools receive a minimum of $6,600. Therefore any private school that was grossly out of the mainstream simply could not attract enough students to keep its doors open.

Evidence from real-life experience also demonstrates that the "radical" school claim is false. Many states, including Vermont, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, and Illinois have tuition voucher or tuition tax credit plans in place, and there is no known case of a school of the type the alarmists have predicted. The same is true in higher education. For years, college students have been using vouchers in the form of Pell Grants and the G.I. Bill to attend private and public colleges- even religious seminaries- and we have yet to see the University of the KKK or the College of Magic and Witchcraft.

Supporters of school choice should turn this argument around and ask what parents should do when they believe that their public schools have become radical. There have been incidents reported in other states of witches making presentations to elementary school children. In fact, in one situation parents were shocked to learn that their children had participated in an actual pagan ceremony in which they danced and chanted incantations. In our own state, many parents were concerned to learn that, without their permission or foreknowledge, homosexual activists had been brought in to explain to their children that people (e.g., parents) whose religious beliefs clash with the activists' agenda are bigots. In Massachusetts, education officials issued a public apology to parents, after parents learned that public schools and state employees had given graphic instruction in homosexual sex acts to children as young as 12. Understandably, many parents find the idea of government employees providing "how to" advice on homosexual acts to be radical.

The answer to the dilemma of defining "radical" is to trust the parents to decide the proper schooling for their children, just as we trust them to decide proper medical treatment and proper nutrition. No one loves or cares for the children as much as their parents, and it is insulting to imply that anyone else should make these decisions.

Once parents have the freedom to match their children's educational interests and needs to the offerings of a particular school of their choosing, we will begin to see lower dropout rates, higher academic achievement, satisfied parents, and happier children. And that's the real magic- the magic of school choice.

Lori Yaklin is executive director of the Michigan School Board Leaders Association.