Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Vouchers — welfare for the rich

Geoff Thomas

Given the near passage of vouchers in the last legislative session, there will certainly be a renewed effort to try yet once again to impose a voucher system. Proponents won’t use the word voucher, but whatever misdirecting guise is utilized to dress up this poorly conceived legislation, it should more accurately be called, “Welfare for the Rich.”

A voucher is a set amount of tax dollars provided to parents to use how they see fit for their child’s education. Thus, vouchers are essentially welfare for the rich as most middle class and working poor parents, even with voucher money, simply cannot afford to send their children to costly private or parochial schools.

It is like giving a rich person tax payer money to help them buy a Cadillac. Even if everyone gets a car voucher, only a privileged few will be able to purchase the luxury item.

Let’s be clear. Educational vouchers will benefit only the urban wealthy. Over 85% of all Idaho’s private and parochial schools are in urban centers. How will a voucher bill benefit parents from Clark County or Leadore? Why should I or anyone else have to subsidize wealthy elites to send their kids to an elitist private school?

Idaho currently ranks 51st in the USA in per pupil expenditures. Data don’t lie and no matter how one cuts it, Idaho is dead last. Vouchers most assuredly will negatively impact public schools even further (Particularly rural schools) by diverting desperately needed resources to private or religious schools.

Voucher proponents argue loudly that parents need choice, but parents already have educational choices. They can choose private or parochial schools if available, or they can choose to home school their child. Within the public school framework, parents may choose traditional, online, charter, or magnet schools. There is already plenty of choice.

Another major concern is fiscal accountability. Who will be responsible for overseeing that each education voucher dollar is utilized appropriately? Are there enough state auditors to review these expenditures?

The fiscal “Accountability” hammer is wielded consistently over the heads of traditional school superintendents and business managers, so, will our accountability hand wringing legislative friends also be as determinedly vigilant with parents?

What will the penalties be for illegal or inappropriate voucher uses? What utilizations will be considered educational in nature? Who will make those decisions? Who will oversee the funds? Who will hold parents accountable? These fundamental questions must be addressed.

Another deep concern is that I believe vouchers represent a clear violation of the Constitution by forcing me to use my hard earned tax dollars to subsidize private Catholic, Lutheran, Mormon, or Muslim etc… religious teachings.

While I agree that parents have a right to pay for their own child’s religious upbringing or indoctrination, why should I, or other tax payers like me be forced to do so?

One of the many blessings we have of living in this great nation is that we enjoy freedom OF religion, but equally important, freedom FROM religion. Our founding fathers were very clear on this point as they determinedly did not want a tax supported state religion like the Church of England. Vouchers are a dangerous step towards the unnecessary mingling of church and state.

Tax payer dollars directed into educational vouchers for religious purposes are a class action lawsuit just waiting to happen, and I will be proud to be the first tax payer to file suit, if the legislation passes. Public tax dollars should be used for public purposes only.

Vouchers are wrong on multiple levels. They are welfare for the rich, they will take away money from and hurt rural communities, they provide only an illusion of choice, they force tax payer support of religion, and there will very little meaningful fiscal accountability and oversight.

Please join with me in working to prevent vouchers.

Geoff Thomas

Geoff Thomas

Geoff Thomas is the former superintendent of the Madison School District and was a member of the governor's Task Force for Improving Education. He now serves as an assistant professor at Idaho State University.

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