Against School Vouchers: Choice Can Be the Enemy of Freedom

June 2, 2015 by  

2015-06-02.mouse-trapProponents of freedom in education beware: choice can be the enemy of freedom. On June 1, 2015, Investor’s Business Daily reported that:

“Nevada has enacted what might be the most sweeping school-choice program yet — a path-breaking win for educational freedom that has left teachers unions wondering what hit them.

The law, signed Friday, gives 450,000 public school kids the option of using taxpayer funds — through what are called “education savings accounts” or ESAs — to help pay the tuition for private schools. Families can use funds in these accounts to also pay for textbooks and tutoring.

Students from families with incomes under 185% of the federal poverty level may receive tuition aid of 100% of the statewide average of public school per-pupil costs. Kids in families with incomes above 185% of the poverty level, roughly $45,000 for a family of four, will qualify for up to 90% of the public school per-student cost.”

The news has been well-received by many people, including parents frustrated with the consequences of being forced to pay for government owned-and-operated schools that are in one way or another thought to be failing or abusing their children. Forced to pay for the government system, many parents find it hard to afford or to justify the additional cost of sending their children to a private school. And, precisely because of those frustrations, advocates of voucher systems have long found a receptive audience.

A receptive audience is a rare and precious thing that an advocate of freedom should never squander. Yet, the advocacy of a voucher system is just such a squandering.

By giving parents tax-funded vouchers and thereby making it possible for parents to choose among public and private schooling options, most parents will have their frustrations eased to the point where they no longer are receptive to calls for freedom in education. The result: the government faces decreased pressure to stop funding schools and controlling education. Proponents of freedom – i.e., those who do not want to be forced by government to pay for the education of their neighbour’s child, and who want a separation between government and education – lose the political support they need to make freedom a reality, because the pressure for reform was rooted in the lack of choice more than in support for freedom in education.

There are mouse traps that bait a mouse to enter through a door that slams behind it and does not allow the mouse to exit. Locked in the trap, the mouse can eat the food that baited him, but the mouse loses its freedom. Such is the nature of an education voucher system. With the sweet smell of choice, a voucher system encourages frustrated parents and voters to enter. Once inside, they – for a time – have the choices they bargained for, but they are further than ever from freedom. They can choose among schools – public or private – but the government ends up gaining economic control – hence educational control – over the nature of private school education. In the long run, one not only squanders public support for freedom, but also loses the choice in education that existed between public and private schools before private schools became dependent upon government money.

Freedom implies choice, but choice does not necessarily imply freedom. When each parent pays, with his own earnings, for the education of his own children, parents are free and, as a result, have choice in schools and education. In contrast, when everyone is forced to hand over money to a government that then divvies it up and redistributes it to parents in the form of school vouchers, the resultant choice is a product of oppression, not a cause of freedom. Choice can be the enemy of freedom.

The take-home message is simple. Do not be lured by promises of “choice” in schools or education. Reject, as a political trap, voucher systems. Instead of demanding choice, demand freedom in education: a system in which all parents pay tuition, with their own earnings, directly to the schools to which they choose to send their children. When parents are free from education taxes and government funding of education, choice in schools and education will be the result.


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