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Thursday, February 07, 2002

Vouching for Vouchers-Beauty of Gray's Douglas Turnbull has a measured response against school vouchers. A cornerstone of his argument is that "[g]ood private schools cost more (in many cases quite a bit more) than most public schools spend on kids. So a voucher program wouldn't mean that every kid could go to private schools." It depends on the school. Most church-based schools are less expensive that public schools, due to a combination of lower salaries and synergies with the church. Some secular private schools will be more expensive. A voucher might not pay for Blueblood Academy, but might pay for St. Bridgit's or Calvary Baptist. There's the issue of special ed or bilingual ed, where private schools might not have the expertise and the costs are higher, but one could adjust the voucher amount for "degree of difficulty." There is a skimming effect in that the default value is that a kid goes to public school. A parent who is interested in their child's education (and pushing the kid to achieve) is thus more likely to look at private schools, while parents who are less attentive will tend to leave the kid in public school. The vision that the public school backers want to leave is a public school system full of misfits and dummies after the smart kids evacuate for the private schools. A good private school, which might challenge a kid to do better rather than baby the kid for fear of hurting his self-esteem, can often do well with the "dummies" if given the chance. In general, a parent has a better handle on what his child needs than some administrator downtown; a check to send the kid to an alternative school empowers them to do so. They might choose Taliban High or Touchy-Feely Academy, but as long as the kid gets the basic skills to be a functioning member of society, that should be the parent's call. Michigan has been experimenting with charter schools, public schools with autonomy to create their own style and curriculum (Full disclosure-my niece Jessica goes to a charter school here in Midland). These are, as public schools, secular, but within that framework can set up thing the way parents want , rather than a cookie-cutter approach from the Admin building downtown. One charter school in Freeland specialized (may still, I lost touch) in dealing with ADHD kids, while Jessica's school is a school for high-achievers. Charter schools ignore the spiritual dimension, but by being able to specialize and avoid standardization, can bring most of the benefits of a private school while staying in a publicly-run framework. Vouchers will be touchy. True, we can't send every kid to Groton. However, we can give parents options that won't bust the public's budget.

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