Mark Warner (pictured on the right), Virginia's former Governor and now junior Senator, has bucked his party and voted to revive a voucher program for D.C. School Children that many Democrats in Congress apparently want to kill. The Richmond Times-Dispatch quite rightly praises Senator Warner's vote here.
The "D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program" provides up to $7,500 for students from families with incomes less than 185 percent of the poverty standard. More than sixty private schools participate in the program, and about 1,800 children currently receive such vouchers.
The Washington Post recently opined that Congressional opponents of vouchers have "step[ed] between 1,800 D.C. Children and a good education." The Post also concludes that these opponents won't "let fairness and the interests of low income, minority children stand in the way of their politics." Translation: politics is trumping the interests of schoolchildren who lack the means to escape a substandard school system. Here is the Post Editorial.
One commentator has estimated that Washington D.C. spends more than $24,000 per pupil on its K-12 schools. The same commentator estimates that the average tuition at the private schools in the District to be far less. Here are the relevant figures for the District's private schools:
Average tuition actually paid: $11,627;
Median tuition actually paid: $10,043;
Estimated average total per pupil spending: $14,534;
Estimated median total per pupil spending: $12,534
Presumably private endowments make up the difference between tuition and actual spending at these schools.
The arguments for vouchers are powerful and, I think, irrefutable. Take food stamps as an analogy. Most Americans believe that taxpayers should feed the hungry. This obviously requires the government to raise revenue and spend the proceeds. When it comes to feeding the hungry, such spending takes the form of a food voucher -- food stamps. The government need not, however, take over the grocery stores that sell the food, the farms that produce it, the factories that package it, or the trucks or trains that transport the final product from factory to the grocery store. Instead, a free society rightly depends upon the private market, based on property and free contract, to produce and distribute such goods, subject of course to valid police power regulation, e.g., state-enforced labeling requirements and health-related inspections. Redistribution to feed the hungry is one thing. Coercive state monopoly is something else entirely. Support for the former in no way justifies the latter.
If food stamps are the right answer when it comes to feeding the hungry, why not apply the same logic to educating individuals who cannot afford to send their children to private schools? This, of course, was the approach taken by the "GI Bill," which provided vouchers to returning GIs who then applied such vouchers at the private or public University of their choice. Ditto for ROTC scholarships, which recipients may spend at any school with an ROTC program, so long as the recipient meets the school's admissions standards. No one, I hope, would have argued that the federal government should have nationalized universities after World War II to ensure that returning GIs would have sufficient educational opportunities.
Perhaps that's why so many Nobel Prize winning economists, including F.A. Hayek (pictured above-left) have supported vouchers.