The Conservative Case Against School Vouchers

It is a given among self-described “conservatives” that private school vouchers are a good thing and we should support them. Not so fast. A little dissent is in order, and long overdue.

First, as a lover of freedom, I cherish the fact that the harder you work and the more creatively you tackle life’s problems, the more choices you have. And deservedly so. Life’s rewards and advantages are a result of effort. They are not free. They are not dispensed as a result of somebody’s idea of fairness–or at least, they shouldn’t be. And fairness to whom? Hard-working parents who sacrifice to send their children to tuition-paid schools may end up in the car line next to those whose children attend for free. It is a fact that deserving children already enrolled in the participating schools are not eligible for a tuition voucher, no matter their legitimate need. Why? These children didn’t meet the requisite threshold of hardship: they don’t come from a “failing” school and are not quite poor enough. Their parents are effectively penalized for faithfully discharging their duties, struggling to pay tuition, yet failing to be sufficiently destitute.

The implicit message: work hard, do the right thing, and we’ll assume you don’t need a break.

And remember, the paying families are paying twice: through property taxes and through tuition. It is quite possible that voucher families are paying nothing.This fact alone is  contrary to an equitable and fair division of responsibility in our society. It breeds resentment–and it should.

If tuition vouchers have merit, make then equally available to all. A family who pays taxes AND tuition, through difficulty and struggle, month in and month out, should have the same opportunity for a tuition voucher as a family in a designated “failing zone.” There should not be a poverty “litmus test” to determine who can access public funds for the benefit of their child’s private education. A simple, “We choose this school” should be enough.

When this happens, I will herald private school vouchers, and not before.

After eight years of Catholic school, my daughter attended a good public high school. This was a personal choice made after long and sometimes painful deliberation. It proved to be the best choice for her for a wide variety of reasons. But if this option had not been available, I wouldn’t have blinked. I would have made other arrangements–financed the needs of my child in another way–as responsible parents have done for generations. We are not owed anything.

And neither is anyone else.

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