Thursday, July 15, 2004

School Vouchers and Teachers' Unions

The American Federation of Teachers -- exhibit A in the case against labor unions -- is crowing on its web site about the Colorado Supreme Court's recent 4-3 decision that declared the state's new school voucher program unconstitutional. The AFT says that the decision marks "an important victory in the union's ongoing battle against voucher schemes."

At the bottom of the page about the Colorado decision there's a link to another page: Find out more about why the AFT opposes private school vouchers at taxpayers' expense. Here we learn that
The AFT supports parents' right to send their children to private or religious schools but opposes the use of public funds to do so. The main reason for this opposition is because public funding of private or religious education transfers precious tax dollars from public schools, which are free and open to all children, accountable to parents and taxpayers alike, and essential to our democracy, to private and religious schools that charge for their services, select their students on the basis of religious or academic or family or personal characteristics, and are accountable only to their boards and clients.
There are several whoppers in that quotation. I'll take them one at a time:

• "Public funds" are, in fact, tax revenues collected through the coercive power of government.

• The phrase "private or religious education" seems calculated to appeal to anti-religious sentiment (especially anti-Catholic sentiment). The distinction is unnecessary because a "religious" school is, by definition, a "private" school.

• Public schools would need fewer "precious tax dollars" if there were fewer students in public schools. Public school systems would probably become even more top-heavy with administrators as the number of public-school students dwindled. Then we'd see just how much they are "accountable to parents and taxpayers."

• Public schools aren't "free" and they do "charge for their services" -- they just seem free to the na├»ve among us because they collect their fees in the form of taxes.

• "Private and religious schools" may or may not "select their students on the basis of religious or academic or family or personal characteristics." So what if some of them do? It's a two-way street. With vouchers, parents can select their children's schools on the basis of religious or academic or family or personal characteristics. There's nothing wrong with that, unless you believe that Johnny should be forced to go to school with a bunch of louts just because they live in his public-school district.

• Public schools aren't "accountable to parents and taxpayers," they're "accountable" to elected school boards, whose members are usually co-opted by public-school administrators. Public schools are not accountable to taxpayers, who must cough up their taxes regardless of the quality of "their" public schools. Most taxpayers take no interest in the quality of public education because they are childless or their children aren't in school.

• Private schools, on the other hand, have what the AFT sneeringly calls "clients" -- that is, parents -- who have a direct interest in the quality of their children's education and who can vote with their checkbooks if they're dissatisfied with the education they're paying for. That's accountability.

But accountability is the last thing the AFT wants for its members, who pay their dues to be protected from true accountability, which they would experience if vouchers were widely available.

It's no wonder that more and more parents are willing to give of their own time (and some amount of money) to home-school their children. Teachers' unions care first and foremost about protecting teachers' jobs. If teachers' unions really cared about the education of children, they'd go out of business.