Hurray for the Know Nothings

If you have any interest in education policy, or perhaps an interest in grizzly bears, you know that Secretary DeVos is a big proponents of vouchers. I think when some people hear vouchers they imagine sending their children off to Beaver County Day, voucher in hand.

And I’m here to tell you, Don’t You Believe It. That isn’t the way it has worked out for any community that has tried to implement a voucher program. For reasons that I will get into, vouchers lead to worse educational outcomes for students.

Take Trump’s campaign promise to provide 20 billion dollars to disadvantaged students for vouchers. He would have to raid Title I funds and then some in order to provide this money. This will leave educational ecosystems more degraded than they already are. And if that money goes only to America’s 25 million disadvantaged students, this will provide a voucher of a little less than $1,000 a year per student.

Trump assets that states will need to kick in an additional $220 billion dollars to make this plan viable. Frankly, I see this a little bit like Trump saying that Mexico will pay for the wall. Where, pray tell, are these cash strapped states going to find these billions of dollars without wrecking the school systems of the children who are not disadvantaged? But even if the states pillage all of their government employee pension plans to pay for this, we are still looking at about $11,000 per student.

This still isn’t enough money to send your child to private school. Parochial schools are generally cheaper than independent private schools. Catholic Memorial High School is $18,000 a year. BC High School is $20,000.

And while it’s true that most private and parochial schools offer financial aid, the schools haven’t been conscripted into supplementing this voucher plan. They have their own criteria for who gets admitted and how much aid they will receive.

And this is the reason why vouchers lead to worse educational outcomes. Because Trump is a religious man, and that religion would be Supply Side Economics. And if there is money to be made, there will be someone who steps up to provide that service as cheaply as possible. Even if they don’t exist today, there will be schools that will take that voucher money. We can imagine how they will manage to provide a private school education at half the cost of what current schools charge. Will they be quality schools? Will they accept special education students? English Language Learners? What about little Johnny over there with lice in his hair who gets bored easily and throws things at the teacher for attention? Will a private school take him? Will there be any regulatory scheme or will we let the market sort this all out?

All of this leads me to cheer for the “Know Nothings.” The Know Nothings were an anti-Catholic party in the 19th century, and one their most stubborn legacies was a provision in the Massachusetts State Constitution prohibiting public money going to private schools.

This fallen Catholic salutes your wisdom.

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