School Vouchers Are An Educational Win-Win

Our community is blessed with many fine educators in our public school system.  We are very fortunate to have such tremendous servants in our town.  They deserve our profound respect, appreciation, and support.

That is precisely why I believe our present educational system has to change.  The model that is currently in place, like so many other aspects of our government, is simply unsustainable in its current form.  Few if any of us like change, but the plain fact is that we desperately need ideas that are fresh, courageous, and innovative. Failing to face hard realities actually diminishes the sacrificial work of our public educators and places the entire system in jeopardy.

There are several reasons to believe that our state’s school voucher program can actually strengthen the public school system and place our community’s overall approach to educating our children on a much firmer foundation.

It’s best for the budget

Imagine for a moment that a new engine plant set up shop next to Caterpillar and offered to manufacture a portion of their engines at the same or better quality for 20% less cost, leaving Caterpillar the extra money to build their remaining engines at an even higher quality–and at the same price point–than before.  How long do you think it would take Cat to make that deal?

That is exactly what the voucher system does for the state of Indiana.  I am surprised how frequently the discussion focuses on how much less a particular school will receive.  That fails to take into account the other obvious side of the equation–that the school is also responsible to educate fewer children.  If private schools are willing to educate a portion of the children currently in the public system at a lower cost to the state, how could that possibly be bad?

It’s best for the parent

It’s both disingenuous and short-sighted to chide parents for abdicating their responsibility when the system won’t trust them with the fundamental choice of which school their child attends.

Teachers frequently bemoan the lack of parental involvement in their child’s education.  I fully agree with them on that point.  Education is fundamentally the task of the parent.  That is why I believe a robust system of educational choices will actually encourage and stimulate parental involvement.

Options generate participation and creativity.  What would happen if, when you went to the grocery store, you only had one choice of meat, one choice of bread, one choice of vegetable, and one choice of beverage?  Would meal creativity and the cook’s involvement go up or down?  The best way to secure more meaningful parental input in their child’s education is to give them legitimate options and control.  It’s both disingenuous and short-sighted to chide parents for abdicating their responsibility when the system won’t trust them with the fundamental choice of which school their child attends.

It’s best for the student

Some students learn better in a smaller environment.  Many children need more discipline and focus than what is available in a larger school setting.  Other young people thrive when the instruction connects academic rigor with faith commitments.  Aren’t the children of our community best served when we provide access to a variety of educational options and allow them and their parents to select the one that best fits their individual needs and desires?  Why would we ever withhold what is best for our children?

It’s best for the educators

Collegial competition is healthy in practically any endeavor.  The current system of government educational monopolies stifles creativity and innovation.

The same is true at our church.  I am glad that there are over 100 other local churches in our community.  I do not really consider these entities as competitors, but I suppose in some senses they are.  And I believe our town is best served by a broad range of religious choices and the theological freedom to believe anything or nothing.  Knowing that someone can choose to attend another church next week, or to simply roll over and go back to sleep on Sunday morning, keeps us on our toes to constantly look for ways to improve our ministry to people and to accomplish our mission in a way that is characterized by streamlined efficiency.  Our future existence, just like that of every business in this town, depends on our responding wisely and swiftly to the challenges of healthy competition in the free marketplace of ideas.

It’s best for the culture

Some good folks dislike vouchers because of the legitimate concern that we may be crossing important boundaries in the separation of church and state.  I could not agree more, but I believe we have to look at the issue from both a historical and philosophical perspective.

As long as parents have the freedom to choose whatever school is best for their child, the important separation of church and state test is adequately met.

The founders never envisioned an irreligious culture, which is why at the very time they were formulating the First Amendment, they also hired Rev. William Linn on May 1, 1789, to be Congress’s first chaplain at the government salary of $500 per year.  The day before, George Washington said in his inaugural address to both chambers of Congress that “we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.”

The establishment clause was our government’s proper prohibition against favoring a particular denomination, not its desire for a public square cleansed of all things religious.  As long as parents have the freedom to choose whatever school is best for their child, the important separation of church and state test is adequately met.

Win-win

The process of change and innovation is both messy and uncomfortable.  But we must acknowledge that our present approach to public education is simply unsustainable at any cost.  The voucher system keeps more money per remaining pupil in the public school system while giving parents and students the choices they deserve and community educators the competition we need.  From where I sit, everybody wins.

Steve ViarsSteve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.
blog comments powered by Disqus