Vouchers provide families real choice

By Jordan Harp

Last Tuesday about 1,000 Chicago public school students were herded onto buses and driven to New Trier, a district in the north suburbs, in an attempt to enroll in better schools there instead of attending their first day of classes. Democratic state Sen. James Meeks from Chicago orchestrated the boycott to draw attention to the disparity in public school funding.

Although his methods might be questionable and the solution that he calls for may not be the right one, the issue that he raises is valid. The district in which the boycotters tried to enroll does spend about $7,000 more per pupil than the Chicago public school district; however, the Chicago school system is 10 times bigger than the New Trier district, and of course, the New Trier district is much more affluent.

The main local source of funding for public schools in Illinois comes from property taxes. Therefore, in more affluent areas, there will be a greater amount of funding for schools. However, those districts that receive less funding from property taxes because of lower property values receive a higher proportion from the state in an effort to keep the funding gap to a minimum.

The New Trier school district distributed a fact sheet that showed the average property wealth per student in its district is $1.13 million, while in Chicago it is just $150,000. As a result, the New Trier school district receives just 3 percent of its funding from the state and 96 percent from local sources, while the Chicago system gets 48 percent from local sources and 35 percent from the state. The spending per student in New Trier is approximately $17,000 a student, while in Chicago it stands at $10,400 a student.

Now the obvious solution might be to find ways to increase the amount of funding to these less affluent districts, and that is exactly what Sen. Meeks was calling for. He had proposed a school-funding bill that would allocate $120 million into failing districts, which would be accomplished by raising income taxes. But even if all of the money went into the Chicago public schools, pumping $120 million into a school district with 420,000 students would only increase per pupil spending by $285. What proponents of this plan can’t seem to realize is that school funding and school performance aren’t always related.

A study by Forbes magazine last year demonstrated that funding is not always a strong indicator of performance. The study examined 97 counties across the nation and sought to find which were the best school districts for the money. Forbes did this by examining per pupil spending, college entrance exams and graduation rate. The list clearly shows that higher spending does not always lead to better schools.

Instead of just blindly throwing money into failing schools, parents should be given a choice of where to send their kids, and vouchers are a great way to do this. Instead of giving money directly to a school district, a voucher is money issued in the form of a certificate as a means to assist families in paying for their child’s education at a school of their choice.

It puts the power in the hands of the parents to make the choice of what is best for their child. Instead of being stuck at the failing school in their district, a parent can send their kid to a nearby private school or another public school in a nearby district that isn’t failing. Schools are held accountable by parents, because if they don’t perform well, parents can take their child elsewhere. Schools are, therefore, forced to maintain their educational standards by weeding out bad teachers and updating curricula.

Of course, all of this is vehemently opposed by the powerful teachers unions’ lobby, as this would ruin the monopoly that they have on education. Because of the aforementioned unions and their dogmatic notions of public schools – and teachers – being above reproach, vouchers are opposed by many on the left. It is reflected in the presidential candidates as well; McCain calls for choice, while Obama calls for an army of teachers and universal preschool.

It is odd and incredibly hypocritical that the same people who are so adamant about a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion are so adamantly opposed to a low-income family’s right to choose to send their child to a better school. Odd indeed.

Jordan is a junior in LAS and feels horrible about it, but laughed when he heard Tom Brady’s injury was bad.