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School Vouchers Worth Considering in St. Louis

June 11, 2006 Education, Politics/Policy 35 Comments

I may be about to lose my liberal credentials but here it goes, I think we should consider school vouchers in St. Louis. Before you scroll down to tell me I’m either insane or to thank me please continue reading.

Like many of you I’ve thought of school vouchers as an evil plot by the religious right to get us to help fund the “education” of a new crop Pat Robertsons. But my perspective has changed of late and it all began on a bus trip to New Town at St. Charles.

By pure luck the guest of honor for this event, John Norquist, sat next to me to and from so we were able to talk about many things. Norquist is a former Wisconsin State Rep., former Mayor of Milwaukee and is currently serving as the CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Among the many things we discussed was school choice.

When it came up I was wondering if he was some religious nut but I didn’t get that impression from him. Then he made a statement which really hit home:

You already have school choice!

He saw my confused look and pointed out the bus window as we drove along I-270 in the suburbs. Ah ha. His point is that school choice has existed for decades, those with more money simply move to get better schools (or at least what they perceive as better schools). The reverse is true, people don’t move into areas where the schools are bad. A school voucher system in St. Louis, he argued, would allow someone to live in the city with less concern about the state of the public school system.

Intrigued by Mr. Norquist I bought his book, The Wealth of Cities, following his evening presentation that night. This book is a bit dated now in terms of context but the logic he uses to analyze situations is still on target. I highly recommend it.

Fifteen years ago I shared the view that vouchers would cripple the public schools and that allowing city students with caring parents to attend the school of their choice would hurt those left behind. But the truth is, under the traditional government monopoly in education, children from affluent families are leaving behind children from less-affluent families behind. Instead of choosing an alternative school for their children, wealthy parents are choosing an alternative place to live, the suburbs. Vouchers would give all parents a similar power of choice, one that doesn’t require moving out of town.

Norquist continues talking about performance, spending per student and school selection:

Most research shows that spending per pupil is not the determinative factor in pupil performance, or in people’s selection of a school. Milwaukee public schools (MPS) spend more than the state average per pupil and more than some suburbs, yet most wealthy and middle-class people with children — including more than half of MPS schoolteachers with school-age children — avoid them.

Again, those that can afford to exercise their choice in terms of location often do. Where does this leave our public schools?

Low- and middle-income parents struggle hard against a system that denies them choice. Government schools that serve poor communities feel no real pressure to please their captive customers. Instead, they are concerned with self-perpetuation. Their employees are trapped in a situation that they know is wrong but are afraid to change. Taxpayers, meanwhile, respond to the inevitable failure of the monopoly by closing their wallets, which makes school employees even more afraid to take risks.

We, as a society, are failing to properly educate our youth. Norquist goes on to talk about how in higher education the public universities must compete with private universities for students using the G.I. Bill, Pell Grants and other public education dollars. This competition among higher education is good for both the public & private institutions.

Because our system squashes choice, education in kindergarden through grades twelve in the United States is among the worst in the developed world. The lack of competition also hurts private and parochial schools in the United States. By maintaining a level of quality that is merely mediocre compared with that of schools in other advanced nations, private and parochial schools attract refugees from the public schools. If public schools improved, private and parochial schools would have to meet the challenge, as they have in higher education.

Much of Norquist’s book is about breaking down bureaucracy and creating government that is responsive to the needs of it’s customers, us.

Protected against competition, the public-school bureaucracy is insulated from accountability. Our children have little prospect for improvement because our schools face no penalty for failure. In fact, the bureaucracy rewards failure. Every sign of declining school performance becomes just one more reason to increase school funding, even though, according to Rochester University professor of economics Eric A. Hanushek, “there is little systematic relationship between school resources and school performance.”

As Mayor of Milwaukee his incentive was not to protect the established public school bureaucracy but to retain citizens within his city. He was also seeking to make sure those citizens were as well educated as possible.

Only in a center of a metropolitan area can we offer people a full range of educational choices. Just as cities are centers of finance, industry, art, and culture, and just as cities are centers of higher education, so could cities for quality education in grades kindergarden through twelve. School choice would eliminate artificial constraints and unlock the value of cities.

It was in 1990, eight years before his book came out, that Milwaukee’s school voucher program began. Shortly after the book came out their voucher program was extended to parochial schools.

In short he argues middle-class parents with kids avoid inner cities. This rings true in nearly every city I can think of, in particular St. Louis. Attracting these parents often require improving the schools but even with improved schools the perception is still there that city schools are inferior. In St. Louis we continue to beat our heads against the wall about how to improve our schools. Perhaps Norquist is right, a little competition for students might go a long way.

However, school choice through vouchers is not all rosy.

I recently read an excellent 7-part series written last year by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the first 15 years of Milwaukee’s programs (link). They found a number of voucher schools excelling but also a number which were highly questionable. Vouchers, in the case of Milwaukee, are available only to low-income families so those that exceed the income limits are still in the same situation of deciding if they should go to public schools, for over extra money for tuition at a private or parochial school or move to a better school district in the suburbs.

Here is what The Journal Sentinel found

• The voucher schools feel, and look, surprisingly like schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools district. Both MPS and the voucher schools are struggling in the same battle to educate low-income, minority students.

• About 10% of the choice schools demonstrate alarming deficiencies. The collapse of four schools and the state’s limited ability to take action against others have led to some agreement on the need for increased oversight to help shut down bad schools.

• The voucher program has brought some fresh energy to the mission of educating low-income youth in the city by fostering and financially supporting several very strong schools that might not exist otherwise. There are at least as many excellent schools as alarming ones.

• The amount of taxpayer money going to pay for religious education in Milwaukee has no parallel in the last century of American life. About 70% of the students in the program attend religious schools. Religion guides the choices that parents make, and the curriculum that a majority of schools choose, and has led to a network of dozens of independent church schools led by African-American ministers throughout the city.

• The choice program regenerated parochial schools in the city, including dozens of Catholic and Lutheran schools, which were experiencing declining enrollment. Overall, it has preserved the status quo in terms of schooling options in the city more than it has offered a range of new, innovative or distinctive schools.

• Parental choice by itself does not assure quality. Some parents pick bad schools – and keep their children in them long after it is clear the schools are failing. This has allowed some of the weakest schools in the program to remain in business.

• There is no evidence that voucher schools have “creamed” the best students from Milwaukee Public Schools, an early concern expressed by some critics. Except for the fact that the public schools are obligated to serve all special education students, the kids in the voucher program appear have the same backgrounds – and bring the same problems – as those in the public schools.

• Creating a new school through the choice program is easier than most people expected. Creating a good new school is harder than most thought it would be.

Despite a father raised Baptist and a mom raised Mennonite, I have not a single religious bone in my body. I respect other people’s faith and ask them to respect my non-religious views on faith. So, it is no surprise that in the past I’ve held objections to public funds being used to educate kids in religious schools. But, I’m open to considering it. Lutheran & Catholic schools, reinvigorated with low-income students through a voucher system, could help attract back families that can afford the regular tuition. I’d much rather a youth learn to read at a religious school on the public dime than not learn to read at a public school.

What we need is a discussion around how to best educate all of our kids, not just those that can afford to move to better districts in the suburbs. If that means setting up a system where the public school system must compete to attract students then so be it. The team that came into our schools a few years ago managed to do many things (good & bad) but one thing they have not done is create stability. Our system has budget shortfall and the future looks bleak. See the St. Louis Schools Watch blog for more info on the looming financial crisis.

Coming back to bureaucracy, I think we need to look at how big our system is. In Milwaukee, “Archdiocese figures suggest that there are forty times more bureaucrats per student in the Milwaukee public-school system than in the Milwaukee Catholic schools.” Wow, forty times as many administrators! In dollars that translated into basically 75¢ out of each dollar was spent on bureaucracy with only a quarter going to the classroom. I have a feeling out St. Louis system is similarly out of wack. The solution cannot simply be more money per student sent to the district.

Fixing our schools will take time and money. Not so much as expenditures per pupil on bureaucracy but overall community support. The more tax paying residents we have the better off our schools will be in the long term. This, of course, is a chicken vs. the egg situation by needing more residents to fund the schools but unable to get more residents until the schools are fixed. Supposing Superintendent Creg Williams proposals, which I admit I’ve not read, are brilliant and will prove effective it will still be long-term before we see the results. I think we need to give parents the choice now to get their children into private & parochial schools. Sure, some schools will perform even below the St. Louis Public Schools, many will be on par and some will surpass. That is OK. The parents will have had a role in the process.

In the meantime the public schools will realize they do not have a captive audience. If the public schools wants funding they must compete to retain parents in the system, no more monopoly. I think our school system needs this type of treat to break the cycle of self interests — both the political interests behind the bureaucracy as well as the interests behind the teacher’s unions — neither of which serves the interests of the students or the city well.

The City of St. Louis needs more people. We need to keep the ones we got, not losing them to the ‘burbs when they have school-aged child. We also need to attract couples with children in addition to those without kids. The school system is big factor as to why we’ve lost population in the past and why we are struggling to attract significant numbers of new residents. School vouchers, even if limited to low-income families, will result in an increased number of schools available to middle-class families. This may, although not guaranteed, result in more families choosing to live in the City of St. Louis.

Despite the problems outlined in the reports on Milwaukee’s school voucher program, I read nothing to suggest they made a major mistake in going that direction. Sure, in 15 years they’ve learned some lessons about the challenges of setting up private schools as well as oversight of these schools but all in all it seems like a logical option to consider. We can learn from their mistakes and achievements.

OK, you are now free to comment as you see fit. Please keep the discussion on topic, non-personal and thoughtful. Share your thoughts on how to improve education in St. Louis while increasing the overall population or give us all your best argument on why school vouchers is not a sound way to go.


Currently there are "35 comments" on this Article:

  1. City Mom says:

    Warning: this is long!

    I have tried over the last several years to find a St. Louis Public School program that I would feel comfortable enrolling my children in… I know there are good programs in this system but due to our circumstances, I have not found one that matches our personal needs. It does bug me from time to time, especially when I know I am paying taxes to support a system I don’t use and when I write that tuition check! Still I am keep my ears open and hope that in the future we can find the appropriate program for the children in Public Schools.

    There is a part of me that believes that if every middle-income family enrolled their child in Public School, there would not be the same problems with the system that have developed over the years. I am tired of the copout response “we couldn’t stay in the City because of the school system”. I hope I never have to say that.

    I think one of the biggest problems with the St. Louis Public Schools is the weakened neighborhood school system. The school my children attend is not public but it is THE NEIGHBORHOOD School. There is so much diversity there in religious denominations, race and socio-economic levels, I do not honestly believe the children would have this opportunity to know so many different types of children anywhere else. If we went to Public Schools we would be the minority, if we went to a private school, we would be the diversity! We are just “us” where we are. When I look at my children’s school from this perspective, I truly believe that if we were to receive vouchers for selecting this school over a public school, there would be nothing wrong with that, their school fills a void that is not being met by the current public school system.

    I truly wonder how much support a voucher program would get in St. Louis. Even the Mayor doesn’t send his kids to St. Louis Public Schools, and it is my understanding few officials do send their children to St. Louis Public Schools. Would these circumstances create more support for a voucher program?

    I think this program is worth pursuing as a means of population retention and a way to attract families to St. Louis.

  2. awb says:

    I went to a parochial school in St. Louis County in the 60s. I remember hearing talk back then about parents paying twice to get kids educated–tuition for the Catholic school and taxes that didn’t cover their own kids. I think the talk was for a tax break. My mom took the position that private school was a choice for my family and she was willing to pay tuition for that choice. I believe I received a better education than the students in the local public school, for the most part.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to make the choice my parents made. And sadly, I see too many private school students not getting much of an education these days. I also think some of the “good” school districts also fail to educate students at a level that prepares them for college.

    I hate to think that we have to go to a “competition” argument to educate city students whose families cannot afford an alternative. After following some of the St. Louis Public School Board travails, I have to wonder what can be done to improve our schools.

    I talked to 3 young men at a neighborhood improvement event recently, and I was depressed to hear them talking about fearing for their personal safety from the time they leave their houses until they get home. They liked some teachers, laughed about one that passed any girl that flirted with him (that’s scary!!), talked about how one of them transferred after getting jumped and how he hates the new school and is probably going to get attacked again.

    I have no reason to think these kids lied to me. But it is possible. Let’s suppose they told the truth. One was still in middle school, the other 2 in high school. All cited fear of violence as their biggest problem with school.

    They did not describe an environment conducive to learning. How do we expect a kid to concentrate on his studies when he’s been threatened with a beating on his way home? Do we really expect perfect attendance under these conditions?

    Education is a right, but it should come with responsibilities on the part of the student–to allow fellow students to feel safe, and to allow fellow students to learn. It should be that child’s responsibility to follow those rules and his parents’ responsibility for finding an alternative education if the child is, effectively, stealing the educations of other children.

    I haven’t heard school violence mentioned much in the news lately. Does that mean it went away? Or does that mean the public schools can’t handle the bad PR and are keeping it quiet?

    While I hate to allow tax dollars to subsidize religious eduction, even if it is the religion I learned in school, I can’t condone forcing kids into violent situations. It’s state ordered child abuse.

    If anyone has reason to think the young men lied to me, or wants to confirm the atmosphere they described to me, I’m open to hearing it.

  3. travis reems says:

    I would agree with Norquist’s observation that in St. Louis we do have school choice, or at least those that can afford it do. When making statements like “those that can afford it,” as I just did, it is necessary to point out that this is not class warfare. Those that can afford it includes neihbors of mine that send their two elementary school boys to private Catholic schools. I will not give any more details about this family other than to say the parents are working-class, middle-Americans that work opposite shifts in order to spend time at home with the kids.

    It is also important to define the issue here. The issue is not about religious choice, but is clearly about school choice. When at a time of financial failure within the school district, we also face the educational failure of our city’s children. Regardless of the efforts of city’s teachers, our children are not in an environment of positive education within the city’s schools. An environment of education cannot exist in classrooms with pupil to teacher ratios of 30 to 1, as our highschools have, and without the resources the teachers need to properly educate our city’s kids.

    So, why is it that moms and dads choose to work 2 and 3 jobs in order to send their children to these private schools? While for some parents it might be due to the small amount of religious instruction the kids receive, but I believe it is the education that the students receive that compels those parents.

    Now is not the time to give-up on our public schools, but rather to incorporate what we can learn from the private schools in the city, along with the public and private schools in the county. Let’s also look to those positive steps we’ve made in the public schools, such as Cleveland NJROTC Academy, where the cadets study in a regimented format at the only public school in the nation to offer such a program; or at Metro Academic and Classical High School, which ranked 48 in the nation’s top 100 schools; or at the Confluence Academy, which as a public school program is working to address some of those issues in the mainstream public schools.

    Now is the time to work to rebuild the educational programs in our schools, reshape the district’s financial outlook, and look outside the box to accomplish both of these tasks.


    You asked to not make this personal, but please indulge this question, if you would. From your statements, they might be taken as a platform. Are you considering running for the School Board?

    [REPLY – Thanks for your contribution to the discussion. No, I am not considering a run for the school board although President Veronica O’Brien suggested as much when I complained about the handling of the Cleveland public input meeting. My focus is on making St. Louis a great urban city. Two things stand in the way, local politics and local schools. To get the urban city I desire I must address these subjects as well so you’ll see more of that here. – SLP]

  4. SMSPlanstu says:

    Race & Demographics

    Mixing Income Groups

    Mixing Cultures (Jewish students tend to be pushed more for a greater education vs. poor white southerners tend not to be encouraged)
    Each culture/race/income group needs to find the success model that works for them. Mixing is good, but has it worked past threshold levels?

    Black Education surpassed white education at the high school level in 1957 in the City of St. Louis > what role does race vs. income play vs. culture play? However, whites were paid three times more in comparison (with less educational attainment on average).

  5. Brad Mello says:

    In these days of “Kick a child in the behind” and high stakes testing, I am not surprised that a nod toward vouchers might find it’s way here. Vouchers will take much needed funds from public schools and allow wealthier folks the ability to grab public money to send their kids to private schools. As a product of private and public schooling, I have no preference for either. I think that the focus should be on the parents and the valuing of education — that would go a long way to improving how our next generation is educated.

  6. Mark says:

    “an evil plot by the religious right to get us to help fund the “education” of a new crop Pat Robertsons”

    Actually, the religious organization most likely to support—and take advantage of—school vouchers are the Jesuits, famous for their liberalism.

    I recently attended a meeting supporting vouchers, and that meeting was largely made up of Catholics, with many Jesuit clergy present. They said that the Jesuits have a number of successful inner-city schools in the City, and that they have a long history of successfully teaching poor urban children.

    But some of the biggest political opposition to vouchers comes from outstate Missouri: it’s said that in many small towns, everyone goes to same high school and Protestant church. They are very concerned that vouchers would destroy the unity of their community. They are specifically worried that their children, with vouchers, would go out of town to a place like SLU High and come back Catholic—and eventually bring the Catholic schools back with them. Many of these places have deep denomiational roots and strongly support their local public schools. They don’t want this kind of change.

    A politically viable voucher program would seemingly have to be limited to urban areas: but then, these are the places that need help the most.

  7. nutter says:

    Attended a neighborhood gathering this weekend, and listened to the frustrated wife of a city firefighter. City firefighters must live in the city of St. Louis.

    This family sends their two kids to private schools, one elementary, one high school.

    They have taken out a home equity loan to finance this education. Firefighters do not make high incomes.

    Recently, there was a bill floating around in the state legislature which would have ended all residency requirement laws in the state. The rationale was that it is unfair for city blacks to be able to send their kids to good county schools while city whites are forced to send their kids to the lousy city public schools (unless they go private).

    The day the bill was announced, this firefighter family started shopping for a home in the burbs. The bill died, and stuck they remain, working for the city, and paying for private education.

    (Further aside…we all know about the residency requirement for city employees, but did you know that city library employees are not required to live in the city?)

    I think Steve makes a lot of good points, but this will never happen in STL. Too union. Too old school. We have many young, childless, hipsters advocating for public schools, or many new parent city residents figuring they’ll either “go private”, or make their “county run” by the time junior turns six.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    Two major hurdles, a powerful teacher’s union and too many lawyers!

    Listen to the current whining about having to reapply for one’s job when a school gets “reorganized” after too many years of failure – if you’re doing a good job, you’ll get “rehired”. If not, you should be let go! You shouldn’t be guaranteed a job for life just for showing up!

    And “back when I was a kid”, we actually respected and/or feared our teachers and were relatively safe in our our schools (except for those locked fire doors) since there actually was discipline. Combine that with their ability to focus on the “average” students (instead of those with “special needs”), and our teachers were actually able to teach. I “pity the fool” who attempts to be a teacher in a major city’s public school system these days . . .

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    As for the “frustrated wife of a city firefighter” . . . residency was a condition of the job when her husband was hired – if you don’t like the rules, either don’t take the job or go look for a new one now. White flight ain’t gonna solve this problem, even if “residency” doesn’t seem fair if you’re “stuck” with it. Our city taxes pay for the fire fighters’ salary and their generous, union-mandated fringe benefits. There’s no reason why we can’t expect them to live here, as well! Is St. Louis perfect? No, but like a lot of choices in life, you have to weigh the plusses aginst the minuses, you can’t expect to change the rules mid-game just because you don’t think that they’re “fair”!

  10. reality says:


    You must have missed how the city cops changed the rules thanks to the governor appointed police board. They did a bang up job of getting the rules changed. And you should hear how many of them are talking about moving out of the city limits.

    Next on the police board’s agenda? consideration to lift the residency requirement for all civilian police department workers.

    Here’s a paradox for you-the “St. Louis Paradox”.

    The city has had its best decade in, well, decades. Property values have skyrocketed. Downtown is one of the best comeback stories in the nation. Things are going great.

    Still, what do you hear? “The city will never come back until they fix the public schools”.

    Hmmmm. Sounds to me like the city is coming back *in spite of* the public schools.

    Corollary to the paradox…

    People all over complain about the city schools, “I’ll never move the city because of the horrible state of the public schools”. Meanwhile, whether city or county, St. Louis leads the nation in private/parochial school education. (Hence that whole, “where’d you go to high school” question).

    Just like residency requirement for city employees, people moving to the city know that a lousy public school system comes with the deal. You factor that into your market basket of choices before deciding whether the city is for you.

  11. travis reems says:

    It has been mentioned here that property values have skyrocketed. The redevelopment and rehabilitation of the city’s wonderfully historic structures are but one leg of four that what we need to stabilize our city.

    In order to fulfill our city’s destiny, we need to also address our public education system, both academically and fiscally. We can no longer afford to churn out students that are not ready to enter either the workforce or higher education. We not only do a disservice to our city, but as importantly rob these children of their futures if we do not immediately address the ills of the public school system–high pupil to teacher ratios, out moded materials, safety concerns for our children and their teachers, and so on.

    Addressing the public schools will also help with the other two legs–employment and crime. If we prepare our city’s children to enter college or the workforce, they will be less likely to grow-up turning to a life frought with crime. Once our children graduate, we need to ensure that there is adequate job opportunities in the city by encouraging business to return to the city. We’ve lost significant numbers of jobs through the loss of headquarters like SBC (now AT&T, then Southwestern Bell).

    And, the final leg on which we need to stabilize the city is addressing the crime, where we rank 3rd in the nation for our crime rate–not a good distinction. If we have a well educated populace that has jobs, we will also see a dramatic decrease in our crime.

    As you can see, the future of the city does hinge on our public schools. While we all might have differing views on school vouchering, we all agree that drastic change is needed in our public education system. We just need those with a vision for the future and the courage to make needed changes to stand-up and take on that job.

  12. What city do u live in? says:

    “The city has had its best decade in, well, decades. Property values have skyrocketed. Downtown is one of the best comeback stories in the nation. Things are going great.”

    I believe that the city is making great strides, but let’s not make our backs sore from all the patting just yet.

    Yes, property values of skyrocketed here — and everywhere. You want to see real ROI on urban housing? Look to the coasts. That $100K home you bought 10 years ago is nearly $800K now. The rate of increase for city homes is high, but not as high as the inner ring suburbs. Case in point: I bought a nice house in Southampton in 2002… at the time, it was between a similarly priced home in Kirkwood (which was a bit smaller and needed more cosmetic work). I just sold the Southampton home for 22 percent more than what I paid for it. Coincidentally, that same Kirkwood home went up for sale and was sold at 34 percent more than what it was back in 2002.

    Downtown (where I’ve worked for the last 10 years) is doing ok, I guess. I don’t believe it’s the comeback story of the nation, though. It doesn’t seem to be way better than what it was back in the mid 90s. Of course, there’s Washington Ave. now, which continues to get better and better. But how many restaurants have come and gone since then? How many businesses, law firms, etc. have moved to the county? I still miss Flaco’s.

    I don’t mean to attack the previous poster, as there are some great points. But I do believe, Steve, that a strong (or at least, serviceable) public school system is integral to St. Louis becoming “a great urban city.” My wife and I fell victim to what we swore we never would… moving to the county for the schools now that our first has started Kindergarten. We had been in the city since we got married in 1998 – first as apartment dwellers, than bought a small house in south city and fixed it up, then the larger aforementioned house in Southampton. But when Junior turned five, it was time to make a decision. The lack of options for his education was a big part… but not the only part…. there was the need for space, the lack of the need for repairs, the need for a community center (yes, I’m serious… it’s embarrassing that St. Louis cannot figure out how to build something that at least rivals the community centers/water parks of the neighboring burbs), etc… and when you add all of those things together, plus the fact that property values are never going to increase as fast as other places in less these other things improve… it became time to put the for sale sign in the yard.

    I miss living in the city. It’s been a trade off to move to the county. But what have I given up? Free trash, a shorter commute and some stained glass (things that benefit me)… and gained a bigger place, much better public schools and a water park (things that benefit my family).

  13. county runners says:

    ^To the last poster:

    Just curious, where’d you move?

    Do you have equally friendly neighbors?

    Do you have a house with equal or better charm?

    Are your real estate taxes higher?

    Does your child miss the old neighborhood?

    Overall, are you decided that your move to the County was to your advantage? And if so, do you think most other middle class city families with young kids would be wise to follow suit?

    From much observation, that’s the mindset of most city police families.

  14. fairfight says:

    I appreciate the desire for a competitive solution, but the problem with vouchers is that they really don’t promote fair competition. You write as though, if public schools had to compete openly with private schools, the pressure of competition would miraculously make the public schools do better. But where would the resources come from to produce this outcome? As long as our public schools are funded the way they are, based on property values, etc, city schools will always be at a disadvantage, not only relative to private schools, but also relative to wealthier suburbs. This is not to say that money isn’t sometimes spent unwisely in the city schools; of course it is, just as it is in all school systems, public or private. But city schools have less room for error in addition to more problems to overcome (for example, a higher percentage of lower-income students, who have needs in addition to those that can be dealt with in classroom instruction). Finally, I think your initial premise regarding the motivation of support for vouchers is missing one important factor: there are a number of people in this country who see vouchers not as a way to support their religious agenda, but instead as a way to starve the public schools, making it even more difficult for public schools to “compete” and ultimately getting rid of them for good. This fits within a framework of privatizing many of America’s social support systems. The ultimate problem with this is that for private provision of goods to do what a democracy needs – education for all citizens – there have to be private providers who see it in their interest to provide education for even the most “unworthy” or unprofitable users of their goods. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t believe this is likely to happen in the long-term.

    [REPLY – We currently have a no-win situation. More people will not move to the city because of the schools yet the schools can’t improve because more people aren’t moving to the city and paying property taxes. Yes, we’ve got to figure out how to make it work. Having more residents paying more in total property taxes would help.

    Read the information from Milwaukee, it is quite detailed and interesting. Vouchers are not a save all, that is clear. I think it can provide some hope for poeple and perhaps overall provide better education. This may happen a couple of ways. A student not learning in the public schools might do better in a different learning environment. That student does better and perhaps by not being in the public school the students remaining do better with their average test scores higher as a result. Not that it will always happen so neatly but it is worth considering.

    I’m concerned about the right wanting to privatize everthing as well. Will we end up with a private have & have not system? Maybe. But, as the Milwaukee examples show some private schools are stepping in and providing education in neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Assuming the overall student popuation ends up with a greater ability to read & write I don’t know that I am as concerned about how they got there. – SLP]

  15. life's not fair says:

    I’m guessing that “fairfight” is not a parent.

    Note that “What city do you live in” hardly made his/her family housing choice not on what’s best for society at large, but what was best for his/her personal/family interests.

    The Mayor of Milwaukee is right-people do already have a choice. St. Louisans do too…and it’s less that three miles away from about any point in the city.

    Here’s a question for the advocates of public education in St. Louis City:

    How many middle to upper-middle income families do you think would place their children in a classroom of predominantly low income students?

    As a school board member, how do you convince them to do so?

  16. fairfight says:

    Wrong, “life’s not fair”. I am indeed a parent. What would make you think otherwise? That I comment on the unfairness of the system? And what difference does my parent status make? You don’t make it clear in your post whether you are in favor of vouchers, in favor of doing away with public schools (but only in the city?), or what, exactly? I agree with Steve that we do have a serious problem with education in St. Louis. The points I raise are intended to highlight some problems with vouchers as well. You’re right; life’s not fair. But are there some things we can do to make it more fair? One potential unintended consequence that might occur from vouchers is that parents lose their incentive to continue to work for change in the public schools, eventually leading to their complete demise rather than to their improvement. I’ll look at the Milwaukee data, though, to learn more about alternative outcomes.

    Meanwhile, it might be best for us not to engage in speculation and implicit accusations about posters’ experiences. I really don’t care, life’s not fair, if you have children or not. I think as citizens we can all have something to contribute to this debate.

  17. life's not fair says:

    ^Good. That makes two of us. We are city parents by choice.

    We chose to raise a child in the city, and when making the choice, chose to pay the double tax of placing our child in a private school.

    At this stage, we’ve paid roughly $30,000 in tuition, with junior still in elementary school, and likewise substantially shortchanged our retirement…

    If vouchers were available to us, we would absolutely take advantage of them. And I think vouchers would go a long way in leveling the playing field for making the city immediately more competitive with our suburban neighbors.

    Alas, somehow though, I suspect such a program would be targeted to families below some median income threshold, and only low to low-middle income families would benefit.

  18. SMSPlanstu says:

    Let the neighborhoods overtake the schools.

  19. Becker says:

    A common reason to oppose vouchers is (as fairfight said)
    “As long as our public schools are funded the way they are, based on property values, etc, city schools will always be at a disadvantage, not only relative to private schools, but also relative to wealthier suburbs.”

    The simple fact is that the St. Louis City Public Schools spend more money on a per student basis than all but the wealthiest suburbs and yet performs extraordinarily worse.

    The SLPS spends over $10,000 per year per student. And yet it does not graduate 50% in many years.

    My point being that we should not be concerned with the district losing some funding because it clearly has enough to provide a quality education if only it were to use it correctly.

  20. Dave says:


    That’s me!


    We moved to Des Peres.


    Not sure yet. It’s been a few months already, and haven’t really even met my immediate neighbors yet — besides a few obligatory waves. (It’s too bad… as one of them has a pool.) I can’t lay blame on them, as I haven’t made the effort to go door-to-door and say “hey, we’re the new people next to you.” But no welcome bundt cakes or brownies have been delivered yet either. The people I have met while jogging or through other means have been extremely friendly. But definitely a different vibe than the old city hood… where everyone would be out on their front porches socializing every summer evening… with kids running house to house, yard to yard without worry. Now, for my son to play with the kid three doors down… a “play date” has to be made between the parents. And I or my wife escorts him there.


    I’d say yes. the house we bought is not a McMansion… it was built in the early 70s and is all brick. We also have very mature trees. No stained glass like the old ginger bread house, but no ever-leaking stone basement either. And the plumbing stack, which is not in dire need of repair, also is more charming at the new place. 😉


    Yes, but not considerably so. Especially when you factor in I now have viable and quality education options without having to plop down at least $3K a year per child for Catholic schools… more like $12K or more per year for private schools.


    He misses his friends, yes. Who wouldn’t? No matter if you moved city-to-county, county-to-city or wherever. But you know, even with the move… we’re only 20 minutes away — and even closer if you meet somewhere. It’s not like moving within the area prohibits you from doing the same things you used to do, or seeing the same people you’re used to seeing.


    It’s a trade off in a lot of ways… but for my specific circumstances and my specific family, the County wins for us. I’m not proud of that. As I’ll always be a city supporter in my heart (and because I still pay city earnings taxes).

    I will say this… when my wife and I decided to settle in the city, prior to having kids, but planning to have kids, we knew about the school issue. We just assumed we’d solve it by sending our kids to parochial schools — after all, we both went to them. But sex scandals aside, what made me change my tune was the fact that I didn’t really see any clear advantage in the education itself that would warrant paying the extra thousands of dollars a year to go there. What I did see was angst from consolidation, overcrowdedness, and an unwillingness from the archdiocese to allow us to cross parrish borders and send our kids to the catholic school we wanted to. There’s a little more to the story than that — that I won’t go into due to my child’s own learning issues — but that was the tipping point.

    And I thank that’s my main point among all my rambling…. that city vs. county living is not just about schools…. but that schools can become the tipping point for many families. If nothing else, it presents the family with a “hard deadline” to decide on whether everything else is worth it.

    And if so, do you think most other middle class city families with young kids would be wise to follow suit?

  21. wanderer says:

    Traditional families like Dave’s are becoming a less and less significant demographic. On the increase are empty nesters and gay households who do not have kids in school.

    When we moved, we sold our South City house to a high income, lesbian couple.

    I’d like to know the views on the importance of quality schools from most gays, empty nesters, and young couples with no plans of raising kids.

    One often heard remark from empty nesters moving downtown:

    “With the kids out of the house, a downtown loft made perfect sense for us.”

    My take? The schools will not be fixed during the life of my child’s education.

    Saying, “We’ll move the city when they fix the schools” is placing an insurmountable obstacle in front of city living.

    Knowing all this going in, we chose the city.

    “Dave” says he’s not proud of his county run. But why shouldn’t he be? He’s doing what he perceives as being in the best interest of his family.

    Isn’t that his responsibility.

    One must wonder, though, the sorts of views “Dave’s” children will likely be raised around when it comes to tolerance toward Gays, Blacks, Bosnians, Low Income persons, Asians, and other people different from their Catholic acquaintences, friends, and family. That’s part of an education, too.

  22. MH says:

    This is a nation-wide problem, and not just here in St. Louis. Hopefully people understand this. The entire country needs to find a way to fix this horrible situation we have found ourselves in. I have friends in San Diego, and it is odd to hear them talk about issues there, because that city faces problems nearly identical to ours…….horrible schools, violence, budget problems, etc. Their saving grace is that they continually have people moving there to live close to the beach (obviously without children).

    My family will stay in the city when the child reaches that age, and hopefully by then the turnaround will have begun. We will find a way to make it work. I will also be getting involved, which I think all parents should, instead of just running away (to the ‘burbs) and complaining about how St. Louis sucks (the cops and their families)……enough griping and more action is needed.

    I agree with a poster above that if schools truly became neighborhood schools, we would see some vast improvement in a lot of areas. The obvious problem stemming from this solution is that some neighborhood schools would decline even farther. I don’t have any idea how that would be solved.

    All in all, I want my child to be able to walk to school, not have to live in a sterile suburban environment and have the chance to grow up in an urban and diverse city. As I said before, it will take more involvement and less inaction to help make this happen.

  23. what city do u live in says:

    Note that “What city do you live in” hardly made his/her family housing choice not on what’s best for society at large, but what was best for his/her personal/family interests. (end quote)

    And I make no apologies. I think I can serve society much better by doing what’s best for my children than by holding them back for some hollow beliefs.

  24. Dave Again says:

    One must wonder, though, the sorts of views “Dave’s” children will likely be raised around when it comes to tolerance toward Gays, Blacks, Bosnians, Low Income persons, Asians, and other people different from their Catholic acquaintences, friends, and family. That’s part of an education, too. (end quote)

    Well, I wouldn’t worry about that, in my case at least. My current street has a much higher percentage of people of color than my south city street did. And every kid on that street went to Our Lady of Sorrows and was white. So, not buying that I was in a utopia of diversity where I was at least.

    Plus, I think there’s a lot more to teaching kids about treating people with respect and being open minded to others’ cultures, beliefs and opinions — it starts within the home… and is not limited to just what neighborhood you grow up in and what school you attend.

    I’m not saying that traditional families represent the lifeblood of city living. I’m just saying they’re not bad to have around.

  25. LisaS says:

    Traditional families are integral to the lifeblood of the City. That’s part of what diversity is about. We all think about race because that’s what the neighborhoods many of us grew up in lacked, but age is part of the equation too.

    City politicians have largely given up on attracting or retaining families. In a conversation with my alderman (Roddy) at a social event the other night, he kept going on and on about all the things the City is doing to attract Baby Boomers. It’s as if he tacitly accepts the common thinking in this town is that City living is not healthy for kids, and the inference is that our schools don’t matter because of that.

    Schools are a critial issue, and a threat to the long-term stability of the City as the energy situation changes. People will want to work closer and closer to home, and businesses will want to locate near workers. Many workers have children. The City is at a distinct disadvantage without decent schools.

    While I don’t think that vouchers are necessarily an evil idea, I wonder at the impact it would have on families like ours. Both of my kids (4 & 6) are in magnet schools, and while it’s not perfect, it’s at least on par with what my husband & I experienced in the suburban and rural (Arkansas) school districts we attended. No voucher would make it possible for us or most of our friends to afford a private school. Several of us are not Catholic so parochial schools are not an option. The district would rebound and be better for it, I’m sure, but where does that leave families in the middle? Homeschooling on Prozac?

    Oh yeah. the County.

  26. collared says:

    Parochial schools generally will accept students of other faiths, or non-religious families.

    Parents may not want to send their students to a parochial school, but most parochial schools need students and will accept them from diverse backgrounds.

  27. B.J. says:

    I support school vouchers, its nice to finally hear “Liberals” coming around on this issue. However just because some of the city public schools are having problems it should not preclude people from looking to them as an option. For years I sent my kids to private schools because I too had the belief that the public schools were unacceptable. However when faced with the cost of a high school education we looked into the magnet programs and are more than satisfied with the choices available. I have a friend who also sent her kids to private schools and recently got a teaching job at Stix Elementary. She feels the curriculum and atmosphere at Stix are superior to what her own children received in the private system. In other words don’t use a broad brush to paint the unacceptable label on all the city schools. There are credible options currently available.

    [REPLY – Good point, I think the quality may well vary widely from school to school and parents should indeed investigate before assuming the city school is not a good option. Sadly, when it comes to selling more homes in the city, the “look around” pitch doesn’t really fly. – SLP]

  28. Steve Wilke-Shapiro says:

    All right, I wanted to stay away, but couldn’t. FWIW here’s my knee-jerk liberal response.

    The government is responsible for providing and protecting those things which cannot be provided equitably to society by the “market”. These things are called “public goods” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good). Public goods include such things as roads, national defense, police, and of course education.

    Not too long ago in many cities, fire protection was primarily provided by private companies. Property owners contracted with a private fire protection company and in the event of a fire on their property, would call the brigade to put it out. As a business, the fire brigades would not respond to fires on properties that were not under contract. As we all know (particularly in the City where buildings are so close), it doesn’t take much for your burning house to light mine on fire! Because fire doesn’t respect property lines and invididual contracts, protection from fire is a public good – our society has recognized that the best way to ensure the public safety is to provide fire protection to everyone in a way that private business cannot through taxation.

    Education is, of course, not as cut and dry, but it follows the same general principal. A uniformly well educated population is beneficial to society as a whole. We all suffer when large segments of our population cannot read or compute at a basic level.

    A private school, however, is a business. Private schools are not required to accept children with behavior problems. Private schools are not required to accept children with learning disabilities. Private schools can set tuition at $20,000 per year. A private school does not have to provide transportation to its students. The reason a private school can exist as a business is solely because of this exclusivity.

    Public schools, on the other hand, are required by law to educate every child because we as a society have determined that it is in the public interest for all children be educated. Public schools are no more a business than our streets or police are a business – we pay for them because it is in our best interest as a society to have functioning services. The government is trusted with managing our money to serve the public good, but not for making money. If the schools are run philosophically as a market-driven business rather than a public good, we will be unable to provide basic education and services to those who need them the most.

    None of the above should be taken to mean that good fiscal management isn’t important. It is critical as well, and poor fiscal management is a good part of the reason that the schools are in such a bad way now. But good fiscal management of a public good is very different than a “market-oriented” philosophy such as vouchers. A business would say that it is not fiscally prudent to provide educational services to children with severe learning disabilities. It may cost twice as much to provide a teacher with extra training, assistants, smaller class size, and specialized equipment for a student whose parents likely don’t contribute enough in taxes to cover the cost. A business would look at the cost-benefit analysis and stop providing these services.

    I think that most people would agree that St. Louis Public schools are doing an unacceptable job right now of managing our money and achieving uniformly positive educational outcomes (and publicizing those positive outcomes that are achieved). There needs to be big change and soon. Vouchers, however, strip away that which is fundamental to the provision of a public good. Like hiring private mercenaries to fight our public wars, vouchers actually decrease accountability and public trust under the banner of increased efficiency and market responsiveness.

    Thank goodness our society has determined it is important that every child receive educational opportunities. In addition to outdated facilities, a bloated bureaucracy, funding shortfalls, and a dysfunctional board, the City’s public schools deal with a broad range of external issues that raise the cost of education and make it more difficult to provide. Poverty, crime, drugs, lead paint, and absent parents all enter into the equation. The prudent business decision might be to cut our losses. But most of the teachers I know have decided that they will use their classroom not just as a factory for churning out a stable workforce at the lowest cost, but as a haven where for six or seven hours a day, 180 days a year, their students can feel safe and respected – where they will do their part not just to teach reading and math, but also self respect, cooperation, hygene, nutrition, and tolerance.

    We entrust the public schools with a huge bank account and should demand better management of our money, better accounting, and more oversight. Fundamentally, vouchers are a “market” solution that is not equipped to resolve the problems we are having providing a public good. As such, vouchers are a horrible idea to promote in response to failing public schools.

    You want better schools – figure out how to get MORE people in them, not fewer! Same with public transportation – the fewer riders, the fewer people feel that they should be required to support public transportation through taxes.

    Steve, you promote freakin’ trolly cars as a creative way to get more people using public transportation. The same idea applies to public education. Vouchers are like saying everyone who decides not to use the bus gets $45 each month from Metro to apply towards gas for their car!

    [REPLY – I like your points but I am going to use your analogies in another way. First, public transportation. Yes, I want streetcars in St. Louis. Let’s look at Portland. Their bloated transit agency that thought it held a monopoly in the area didn’t want streetcars. Rather than saying “oh well” the citizens of Portland built their own streetcar system outside what the “public” would provide. OK, they are both public but when one didn’t work they simply went around it. The irony is they hired the big agency to run the streetcar system once built.

    And please don’t equate the schools to firefighters. I’d hate to learn that I live near a crumbling firehouse with outdated equipment. I’d learn this only after calling 911.

    I think our public sector entities such as schools or transit agencies should be run more business like. Not to generate a financial profit but to win over “clients” with great customer service and excellent services. Sometimes when I ask questions of public employees I feel like I am somehow interrupting their day. Uh, excuse me but I am why you have a job…

    We’ve decided as a society it is important to educate our children. We are failing in St. Louis and in many major cities. Urban schools, like urban areas, have a negative image that is partly justified and partly myth. To say simply attract more people to the schools doesn’t address the big question, How???

    I love the idea of a school “business” dependent upon retaining students. If the school doesn’t meet with parents’ expectations then they take their kids & voucher money elsewhere and the private business fails. That is a big incentive to succeed. We need incentives for school systems, private or public, to succeed in educating our children.

    I’m not saying vouchers are the answer but I don’t see them as the end to a free society either. – SLP]

  29. Dustin says:

    ^Right on SWS, right on.

  30. Steve Wilke-Shapiro says:

    I stick by the fire department analogy. I’ll tell you why our fire department is decently funded and decently managed as a public good: every single person in the City depends on them to get an ambulence or firetruck to our homes when we need one. We demand reasonable outcomes and we pay to have them because we are all invested in the system. If our fire department was failing to meet its mission in the same way our schools are, you would know about it before you had to “call 911.” Case in point, you believe that our schools are failing even though you don’t have children.

    The place where the fire department analogy falls apart is in the simplicy of the system. Fire protection is an easier monster to deal with than poverty. Our schools are charged with a MUCH more nebulous task than our fire department. Yes, they are doing a poor job, but they are also managing a hideously complex and demanding problem.

    You say that you love the idea of a school “business.” If you operationalize what I assume is your intended use of “business,” you can arrive at a set of individually attainable goals such as responsiveness, good communication, efficient use of capital, innovative approaches, positive employee morale, prudent fiscal management, effective community relations, etc. These are all components of effective organizations, but they are NOT synonyms for “business”.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again. Being “business”-like is not an appropriate goal for a school system. I’m sure that any one of us could name multiple businesses that are run poorly, with poor customer service – some of us have even worked in them! A high percentage of business fail. To say that a public school district should be like a business indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a public good.

    The difference is that a business’ primary goal is to make a profit – to make money. A school district spends money. Period.

    The public can demand good customer service and financial oversight. It can demand that outcomes be measured and that leaders be held accountable. Citizens of the City of St. Louis are not doing this adequately. Competition, however, does not enhance a public good, because the private market by definition cannot provide a public good.

    My point with the trolley/streetcar comparison was that you have recognized the need for expanding the user base as a solution to public transportation woes. Would you get behind a “general transportation voucher,” funded through the Metro budget, that could be used for any transportation (car, light rail, bicycle, airplane, or scooter)? Implementing this would force Metro to compete for our transportation dollars instead of wasting them and providing mediocre service. My guess would be no, because most people who have a choice would apply that money to their single occupancy vehicle. I certainly would – Metro just doesn’t work for me on a day to day basis. How long do you think Metro would be able to last if everyone who had the option took their “transportation voucher” money elsewhere? Would that serve the public good?

    You seem in other posts to recognize the benefits of public transportation even though it often has management and financial problems, and are promoting ideas to increase its appeal to everyone. Vouchers do the opposite. In fact, the recent Congressional proposal to send every taxpayer a $100 check to offset gas prices was laughed off the Senate floor.

    The citizens of St. Louis have already “gone around” the public school system – we have a parallel parochial system that creates “competition” for the public schools. The difference is that this parallel system gets to select who it educates through tuition, entrance requirements, and the ability to simply say “you are no longer welcome here.” Providing vouchers with public money incentivizes students who meet private school eligibility requirements to enter a system that doesn’t have to play by the same rules. Non means-tested vouchers would subsidize people who can already afford to enter the parallel system. Means-tested vouchers won’t affect those already in private schools, but would pull out more already qualified students and leave an even smaller, more stigmatized minority in the public system. With fewer people personally invested in the public schools, there will be fewer voices to be demand quality public education, fewer voices promoting bond issues for facilities improvements, and fewer voices demanding services for the hardest to serve.

    By your own argument, once the people who have the option of leaving have left, the remaining students will be the ones who either can’t get accepted to private schools (learning disabilities, behavior problems, etc.) or those whose parents choose for one reason or another not to go. It would probably get some students better educations in the short term, but will cause far greater damage in the long term.

    You say, “I think we need to give parents the choice now to get their children into private & parochial schools. Sure, some schools will perform even below the St. Louis Public Schools, many will be on par and some will surpass. That is OK. The parents will have had a role in the process.”

    A new McDonald’s and 87 unit senior housing project would be pretty darn good in the short term for South Grand (more sales tax, construction jobs, high-profile projects on a major street) despite some adjacent homeowners that may move out.
    I’ve always known you to have a relatively long event horizon – why the switch on this issue? Think about it: once we open that door, there ain’t no going back. Vouchers are not a “Let’s try it for five years” kind of option. Try telling 10,000 parents they have to pull their children out of their private schools or cough up tuition the next semester.

    [REPLY – Clearly I have struck a nerve. Good, I think some of the best discussion and solutions can come as a result.

    I believe our schools are failing despite having kids. It doesn’t take kids to know people that say they’ll live in the city until they do have kids. Or the folks that want a more urban life if it were not for the kids in suburban schools.

    I think you are getting stuck on two words, ‘private’ and ‘business.’ As you outlined above many goals such as responsiveness, efficient use of capital and such do not go hand in hand with business. True enough. But, private school does not necessarily mean a cold impersonal corporation only seeking a bottom line profit for its shareholders.

    A private school may very well operate as a not-for-profit business. A second public school, if you will. What if we had, as Milwaukee does, a number of schools throughout the community that could offer a different setting to educate our city’s youth?

    The goal is not a short term solution. But we must face facts that the kids we are graduating this year that cannot read will be long term liabilities to the community. For our region to succeed in the long term we must educate the kids in the short, middle and long term.

    Take a deep breath and read the Milwaukee paper’s multi-part series on their 15 year experience. As I said before, it is not all good. They’ve had issues and continue to have issues. However, it has not shuttered the main public school system.

    As for the vouchers in Milwaukee’s system, they are limited to low-income families. It doesn’t appear that all are interested in leaving the public system but some do. Again, parents with greater financial resources get to exercise choice but it is those on the lowest ends of our economic system that do not get a choice. Working to just get by, these parents are the very people that are less likely to be able to change the current system.

    In the end the public good is served when our youth is educated. I’m not hung up on them necessarily doing that at a public school, a non-profit school, a private school or a parochial school. I want them educated. As a society we’ve determined that is in our public interest and we are willing to fund it. Everyone has a choice about schools except those with the least amount of money. They have no choice. – SLP]

  31. Mark says:

    Vouchers thow money to the wind, hoping that the “invisible hand” of the markets will eventually get rid of bad schools.

    But personally, I think that cooperation is needed. Competition is like animals in the forest tearing each other apart, which is not exactly a good model for education.

    An alternative to vouchers is the “beauty contest”. Here an impartial board or commission examines each potential school via a set of standards and track-record. This adds a political dimension to the solution that is missing with vouchers, but is also open to abuse.

    Or, the government schools can be retained solely for special-needs children of children unacceptable to voucher schools. There is however, a large increase of special-needs children these days, and as we all hear, everyone is “special”. This could go back to monopoly for the majority of children.

    Or you could limit voucher money to only long-established schools. New schools would have to pass a beauty contest.

    A strong, but perhaps messy, solution, would be mainly self-regulating associations of schools that receive tax dollars, who would have political oversight from local taxing agencies. The school association, and not individual school owners, would then interact with the government. With this type of assocation, schools would have both rights and responsibilites within the organization. To allow both cooperation and competition, schools would be compelled to join (to get tax money), but new schools would also have a right to join. Members of the association would be bound to its self-made bylaws, and locally elected school boards would also have representation. Special-needs children would then be the collective responsibility of the association, and not just of the public schools. This type of system would allow some competition, but would lessen the potential of monopoly or oligarchy. This type of cooperative/competitive framework is found often in Europe, mainly associated with old-time industries like wine and cheesemaking. This system trusts schools enough to be self-regulating, but also provides political oversight as a check and balance. It removes the government monopoly, without abandoning government oversight, while also providing good, but not destructive, competition. Schools could then compete via quality and content of the education, and not by cost-cutting; taxpayers would control the purse-strings with lessened political meddling from special interests. This system divides taxing power from education. I’d love to hear comments on this!

    Vouchers aren’t a complelty free market since the total pool of voucher money is fixed each year, and consumers can’t choose how much they are willing to pay. Also, students are compelled to attend. With college education, there are no fixed limits, and attendence is voluntary, so it is far more of a free market.

  32. Becker says:

    Steve said: “But, private school does not necessarily mean a cold impersonal corporation only seeking a bottom line profit for its shareholders.”

    Steve you are correct in this at least in some cases. I went to a Catholic elementary school and also used to attend that parish’s church services. Occasionally, the parish would publish basic financial data in the church bulletin. When looking it over you could clearly see that the school operated at a HUGE loss despite the tutition the parents paid. It was the high surplus that the church operated at that allowed the school to operate as it did.

  33. numen says:

    Over on my blog I have responded that the economics for vouchers work out wonderfully well for upper middle class suburbanites (and likely quite a few who have the leisure time and money to blog), but not so well for the folks who most need them.

    (Dunno how well pings and trackbacks are working yet…)

    [REPLY – Thanks for commenting but I need to ask you to go back and read both what I wrote and the extensive materials from the Milwaukee paper. School vouchers, as they work in Milwaukee, are limited to low income families.

    Currently their system is paying roughly $6,000 per pupil per year. The money does not go to the parents but is paid to the school where the child is enrolled. They have had numerous community schools open for the purpose of accepting voucher students at the level being paid. That is, a low-income parent can make the choice to send his/her child to a public school or another school with no financial penalty to themselves. Again, the low-income parent finally gets to make a decision about their child’s education —- a luxury currently only reserved to those in higher income brackets. – SLP]

  34. numen says:

    Do you have a link that gives more details on the cost structure, financial requirements, and the requirements to set up a school? What I can see from the series of articles is very sketchy. To me it looks like a puff piece which notes but then quickly glosses over serious issues such as my tax money helping to promote your religion, or the financial effect on public schools. I don’t see the “benefits of competition” as anything more than a false slogan, unless they can show that public school education is not suffering, and they have a whole article quietly saying they don’t have a clue what the actual effects of the experiment have been. This leaves the entire series of articles as mostly anecdotal evidence, and anecdotes can be too easily slanted to support the enthusiasms of the writer. I’d like to see them put their research where their mouths are.

    [REPLY – I’m guessing you just learned HTML and are excited about links but it is not necessary to link in a comment something that is linked in my main post. Also, I deleted the link promoting your site — someone can click on your name to get to your site if they chose to.

    Actually the articles did take a good look at taxes and religion. Quite a bit of the series focused on how more and more students are going to the religious schools even from outside the religion. Parents are likely chosing these schools because they may be well run, disciplined and near their homes. It seems low-income parents of nearly 14,000 students are currently electing to decide where their children are educated.

    The articles were actually quite critical of many things including the lack of oversight into these schools, the shoestring budgets many operate under, the lack of credentials for many of the “teachers”, and the poor facilities others have.

    What the articles did not cover, however, was anything about the public schools. I still want to know what has been the impact on them for the last 15 years or even the last 8 years since the program has been open to religious schools.

    The evidence is not all in. I still contend vouchers for low-income families is something we need to consider for St. Louis. This will give these familiers greater ability to control the future of their children. Let’s take a serious and rational look at the issue rather than be uniformly dismissive based on heresay and undocumented fears about what might happen. – SLP]

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