Voucher system ‘full of holes’



Donald Trump (left) stands with his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos (right). DeVos, who advocates for the so-called school choice voucher system.

ANDREW HEPPEARD, Opinion Columnist

A storm is growing in DC as political offices are filled with those of questionable qualifications. In my last article in the January 19 issue I spoke about a common libertarian plan for the US education system. Fortunately, the system therein outlined is not the system which Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, has displayed favor for in the past. Unfortunately, her preferences are nearly as half-baked.

Many of us have heard that DeVos has had no direct experience with public education, having neither attended nor sent her children to attend public K-12 or state universities, nor ever attempting to pursue a degree in anything related to education. Also, you may have heard that she supports what is known as a “voucher system,” and thinks that public school teachers are overpaid.

While it is true that DeVos is woefully unqualified in respect to experience dealing in any way with public education, there is a resounding lack of direct public statement from DeVos about her opinions on the salaries of public school employees.

What this idea stems from is the support the DeVos family has given to and received from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who together published a study stating that public educators are overpaid according to average pay in relation to IQ. This study was quoted alongside three others in a Nov. 4, 2011 article in The Atlantic.

The Heritage Foundation and the AEI reported to have found that IQ scores, as well as other standardized test scores, are lower among public educators than others with the same level of education. The study claims that public educators are paid higher than their intelligence should allow, according to standardized test scores.

According to a 2003 article released by the American Psychological Association – yes, the same APA who creates the citation style for your science courses – while the effectiveness of different standardized tests is highly debatable, it seems that the consensus is that they are largely used incorrectly whether or not the test itself is worthwhile.

The article quotes now former president of the APA, Diane Halpern, as stating, “We are not all the same; we have different skills and abilities. What’s wrong is thinking of intelligence as a fixed, innate ability, instead of something that develops in a context.”

In other words, Halpern is stating the obvious: it doesn’t matter what the IQ of an accountant is versus a teacher, neither one would do well with a sudden swap of employment because their training is largely within their respective fields.

What DeVos has actually expressed public support of is a voucher system. Many of us have heard it, and some are either thrilled or scared about what it is simply from the context of the presentation of the term. I have heard few people speak of it near me, however, who actually understand what this system is or how it works.

Many do not even understand that there are voucher systems currently in place in the US, whether that is a good or a bad thing. In some areas of some states, where public schools are not near enough to the children in need of education, a voucher might be obtained from the local government.

If you have gone to public school, tax dollars – largely from property taxes – go towards your education. For some, going to school means going outside of the local area where taxes are paid – say to a different city or county.

A voucher would impart tax dollars from the area where the child lives to the area where the child goes to school, in order to compensate the local public school for educating the child. Some vouchers – in some states, under some circumstances – may go to pay for some of all of the tuition at a non-religious private institution.

Systems like DeVos has supported would allow any parent to apply for a voucher anywhere in the US to pull funding from local education systems, and funnel it into the school to which they wish to send their children.

Just like our last system, this seems like a good idea on the surface.

Just like our last system, this boat is full of holes.

By pulling upper-middle class students out of public schools, those who would not be able to bridge the gap between the voucher amount and the cost of a private institution would be left in an even more underfunded public system. As more children leave, so too would tax dollars.

Instead, if we increase funding to public schools across the country, increase staffing at such institutions and allow financial aid to send teachers to conferences in order to stay up to date on innovative education theory, we could see an improvement in our local institutions, thus improving the children who come out of public schools.

This would start upcoming generations on stable ground – a concept which seems to have been lost somewhere between the Greatest Generation and the upcoming Millennials.