Opinions on school vouchers

Charles Landau

Education is a necessity

It is generally agreed that mandatory education is a good thing. California law mandates compulsory full-time education for children between 6 and 18 years old (Education Code, Title 2, Division 4, Part 27, Chapter 2, Sections 48200-48341). This may be from a private school or tutor, provided it includes the curriculum required in the public schools.

The only quality standards or accreditation requirements I could find in California law for private schools is that the instructors must be "capable of teaching" (Education Code, section 48222). This is a breathtaking lack of oversight, but one can expect the parents to exercise due diligence.

Parents, not government, must provide necessities

The party held responsible for providing for a child the necessities of life, such as food and shelter, is generally the parent or guardian. If they do not do so, they are considered neglectful and if necessary the child is taken away from them. If they are financially unable to do so, public assistance (welfare) is available. Sometimes this assistance is in-kind, for example food stamps.

It would certainly seem unnatural and intrusive for the government to directly provide food and shelter to children. We would agree that parents are in the best position to select the appropriate individualized care for their children.

Let us ignore the status quo for the moment and ask, in an ideal world, who should be responsible for providing an education to the child. As with other necessities, it seems natural and reasonable for the parent both to select the type of education and to pay for it. There is no inherent necessity for the government to provide education, any more than the government should feed and shelter children. In fact, the documentary Waiting for "Superman" illustrates the failure of several major public school systems, failures which are often related to the bureaucracy of the governments that run these schools.


This would imply several things:
  • The public schools should be privatized.
  • Taxes should be reduced so the money to pay for school can come from the parent instead of the government.
  • Public assistance for the needy should include the cost of education, perhaps using a voucher system.
  • School funding

    In California, money for public schools currently comes from several sources. 54% comes from state income taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes. 30% comes from local property taxes. The Federal government, other local payments, and the California lottery make up the rest. (Source: <http://www.sjusd.k12.ca.us/DO/FiscalServices/budgbackov.htm>) This proposal could result in a reduction in these state and local taxes.

    The tax relief that this proposal would provide would fall both to parents and non-parents. It is debatable to what extent non-parents should be taxed to support the costs of raising children. I believe that if the actual costs of raising children are made to fall on their parents, members of society will be able to make a more informed decision when choosing parenthood.

    Some argue that this situation would result in a poorer quality of education in poorer areas, as parents there sought to scrimp on education costs. The current system of collecting money for schools through taxes has the effect that money for schools can be distributed more evenly than it is collected. The distribution of money to schools is subject to a political process, and there have been debates over how evenly it is, or should be, distributed. Under my proposal, the people who argue in favor of a more even distribution would still have the option of soliciting donations for needy schools. Non-parents should also be given the opportunity to donate to education costs. Colleges and universities have long relied on donations to cover much of their costs. Raising money through voluntary donations, rather than coercive taxes, is a principle of libertarianism that increases our freedom and ennobles our humanity.

    The nonprofit status of schools is another discussion, but for this proposal I don't propose changing it.

    Analysis of Prop 38

    Returning now from this ideal world to the real world, one has to ask whether the specific school voucher system proposed in 2000 as California Proposition 38 (which was resoundingly rejected) brings us closer or further from the ideal.
  • To the extent that the voucher system expands private education and reduces public education, I view it as beneficial. Many have made the point that increasing competition in schools can be expected to lead to increased quality and value.
  • To the extent that a voucher system aggravates the problem of the lack of quality standards for private schools, it may serve as an impetus to institute such standards.
  • To the extent that it perpetuates governmental control by taxing all to pay for education for the non-needy, I view it as unfortunate.

  • This page was last updated on 5 Sep 2011.

    Written by Charles R. Landau. Copyright (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

    Charlie's home