Why I Support Fully Funded Public Schools and Not Vouchers

One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her thoughts about school choice and we are happy to share it with everyone here. We welcome all participation and if you have any thoughts about education issues you would like share with us we would love to share your voice too.

I’ve been advocating for a more equitable education system for a couple years now. Although I do the best that I can with what I have at the moment, I’m not ashamed to say that most of the advocating I do is as a keyboard warrior. The debate rages online between those who believe in complete and robust funding of public schools and those who would see us use a voucher (money follows the student) system. I firmly disagree with the voucher system and I’d like to explain why.

Contrary to what many might expect my objection is not grounded in its fiscal wastefulness. There are others who do object on that basis and they’ve done a marvelous job of articulating why. If you are a fiscal conservative, which I am not, I imagine you’d find these arguments somewhat compelling and I would urge you to explore them starting with the always expressive Luke Fevin: https://twitter.com/according2luke?lang=en https://www.facebook.com/according2luke/

My support of fully funding public schools comes from two major places: 1) the observation that public education has made more strides towards alleviating poverty than perhaps any other initiative in the history of human existence, and 2) the fact that public funds belong to the public. I’m not going to take the time to explore the first assertion here other than to direct those who object to the myriad of research on the subject:

Today, I’m taking the time to defend the second statement. Public funds belong to the public.

“My tax dollars……….” Insert whatever follow up you’d like there.  We’ve all heard it; it’s not an unfair turn of phrase. Every citizen is entitled to transparency and accountability from the public servants charged with allocating the money they’ve contributed to the public purse. But “my tax dollars” does not equal “my portion of public money” and unfortunately, too many people believe that it does.

The entire purpose of collecting taxes is that when people act as a collective, services are cheaper and more accessible to everyone. If everyone who is entitled to those services were to start demanding “their portion” of the monies that fund those services, everyone would lose the advantages of lower cost and access. And the withdrawal of those funds would be detrimental to those who lack the resources to compensate an underfunded system. Let’s think of this in terms of public libraries.

It’s been years since I checked a book out of a public library. Why? It’s just more convenient for me to buy them. There’s no time limit on reading them. I don’t have to wait in case my local library has to borrow it, and in the end, I get to keep my copy forever. I read a lot and I don’t use my local public library. But my tax dollars do fund my local library. Is this an injustice? Shouldn’t the tax dollars that I contribute follow the user and instead of funding a resource I don’t use, fund my own personal library instead? Of course not! First of all, I doubt that the tax dollars I contribute towards public libraries would even cover the cost of the next Song of Ice and Fire novel, even if it does take George RR Martin ten years to write it (har har, I’m so passive aggressive, but seriously dude, hurry up already). But even if they did, losing the tax dollar contributions of every tax payer who doesn’t use the public library would result in the closure of every public library. The entire purpose of coming together as a collective would be defeated and the only people with access to literature would be those who could afford to buy books. The same goes for the education system.

Here in Alberta, money is generally distributed to schools based on enrollment, but we do it that way because it’s a convenient and generally accurate way of determining need, not because those funds actually belong to the individual students. So when the parents’ choice crowd and other people who advocate a voucher system talk about “their child’s portion”, they’re talking about money that doesn’t actually exist. It’s not their child’s portion. It’s not my child’s portion. It’s public money that is supposed to be funding a public system that is accessible to the public. People are free to withdrawal from that system, just like I’m free to not use my public library, but they don’t get to take public money with them when they leave. It’s not theirs to take.

There are all kinds of reasons that parents may choose to not make use of the public system, but it is always available to them. Those who would look elsewhere need to take responsibility for their choice and fund it out of their own pocket, not from the public purse. And no, you don’t then get to exempt yourself from funding the public purse either. We all reap the benefits of public education merely by being surrounded by a knowledgeable population. That benefit is our collective responsibility to pay for, whether or not you attended a public school and whether or not you have children attending a public school.

Public education has been one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The positive impact of it is immeasurable and cannot be overstated. If we want to continue our upward trajectory out of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance, we cannot allow individuals to chip away at this magnificent edifice, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Public money belongs to the public, not to individuals, which is why I do not support the voucher system.



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