Vouchers: a subsidy for private schools and low income students?
Voucher opponents maintain that vouchers are subsidies for private schools, but a logical analysis says they are not.
Are all taxpayer-funded purchases of goods and services from the private sector a subsidy for private sector providers?
Government at all levels contracts with private sector companies to provide goods and services. Some examples include:
- Medicaid: a subsidy for doctors and hospitals or a subsidy for low-income patients?
- Heating assistance: a subsidy for gas and electric companies or for low-income households?
- Food stamps: a subsidy for grocery stores or a subsidy for low-income families?
- Pell Grants: a subsidy for private universities like BYU (whose football team recently won a big game) or a subsidy for low and moderate income college students?
Clearly, the private sector providers are not being subsidized because they are being paid to provide goods and services. The recipients of these services are the ones being subsidized.
Even within the school system, tax dollars are used to procure services and equipment from the private sector. School districts don't build their own buildings but contract with the private sector to design and construct buildings. These contracts are not subsidies for construction companies since they are providing a service, just as private schools would be providing a service to low and moderate income students with vouchers.
A subsidy for low income students?
Vouchers are a subsidy for low income students, but the current public education system is a subsidy for most children. In FY2005, taxpayers spent $6,309 per student (including capital and debt service but excluding non K-12 programs), and this is more than double the average amount of the proposed voucher.
Most households do not earn enough money to pay enough taxes to cover the costs of educating their children in public schools (while at the same time covering the costs of other government programs such as roads, higher education, public safety, Medicaid, etc.) In terms of absolute dollars -- but not necessarily in terms of percent of personal income -- higher income households subsidize everyone else. Subsidizing the education of low and moderate income children is one of the fundamental premises of public education.
What about parents without children? Where's their voucher?
Taxpayers without children benefit from vouchers because they will be paying less to have low and moderate income children educated since the average voucher amount is less than half of what taxpayers are paying to educate children in public schools.
Opponents of vouchers who rhetorically argue that vouchers are unfair to childless taxpayers are essentially arguing that childless taxpayers shouldn't be funding public education in the first place.