School Vouchers

Over at the Urban Review blog, Steve Patterson has decided that maybe Liberals ought to support school vouchers:

… 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 … would allow someone to live in the city with less concern about the state of the public school system.

Presumably if people could live in the city but avoid the public schools, then more people would live in the city and there would be more tax dollars for public schools which them might…might…get better.

Well, I think vouchers are what they always were, a means for the almost-rich to get another leg up on all those below them on the ladder of success, a leg up paid for by those who are poorer than they are. So let’s look at a few numbers…

Folks are eager to talk about vouchers, but seldom do they actually spell out the specifics, especially not in print where someone can check them out. But I keep hearing that people would get $2,000 or $2,500 per year per child (and sometimes they go as high as $5,000). So just what will that do for all those disadvantaged families who will now have a chance to get as good an education as their suburbanite brethren?

Tamika is a single mom in north St. Louis with two kids, one in jr high and one in high school. She gets twice minimum wage and after taxes and deductions gets about $10,000 take home a year. She pays $300 a month for an apartment, $300 a month for food, and $200 a month for utilities and clothes and everything else, and nothing for entertainment. That’s $9,600 a year, and she’s got $400 a year to pay for private school for her two kids.

Tiffany is married and living in Chesterfield with two kids, one in jr high and one in high school. They both work and have a combined income of $130,000 a year, and around $100,000 take home. They pay $20,000 a year on their mortgage (after getting to deduct all that interest) and $50,000 a year for food and utilities (and they get to spend money on entertainment). That leaves them $20,000 a year for private school tuition.

So what would that private school tuition be? Well, I took a look at St. Louis Parent Magazing (available for free every month at your local grocery store). In the last few months they have been concentrating on summer camp, but last October they listed local private schools and their tuition rates. I’m going to use the maximum rate because the lowest rates are usually for two or three days a week for pre-kindergarden, which would give a wealthy suburbanite mom a wonderful break from the kids, but wouldn’t do much for a working mother who needs someone to take care of her kids every day while she’s at work.

Academy of the Sacred Heart $6,250
Andrews Academy $10,998
Central Christian $5,227
Chesterfield Day School $13,309
Chesterfield Montessori $9,100
The College School $11,435
Community School $12,640
Forsythe School $12,595
Rohan Woods School $11,850
Rosman School $13,400
School District of Clayton $12,450
St. Michael School $9,975
Gateway Academy $6,525
Visitation Academy $12,600
John Burroughs School $17,000
Thomas Jefferson School $17,800

Hmm, Tamika is screwed, no matter what. No way she can take advantage of any voucher that doesn’t cover pretty much the full cost of tuition, school supplies, lunch, and transportation to get there and back.

But Tiffany is gloriously happy. The greater the voucher, the better the school she can send her kids to.

And no matter how intelligent Tamika’s kids may be, they will be stuck in the public school, which will get less and less money and provide a worse and worse education as funding is all taken away by the middle and upper classes to send their kids off to private school.

I wonder if that’s how it was all designed?

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3 Responses to School Vouchers

  1. The voucher program that Milwaukee has used for the last 15 years is for low-income families, such as Tamika, only! The middle & upper folks already have school choice by virture of their incomes. The voucher program I see for St. Louis would be for those folks that, due to limited incomes, currently have no choice in where their child is educated.

  2. numen says:

    Steve suggested I read the extensive series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal about their fifteen year experiment with school vouchers. So I did, (although a few of the related articles refused to come up on Firefox).

    They are providing a voucher (to the schools, not the parents) for up to $6,000 for families up to twice the poverty line (although I was able to find only sketchy details). That is definitely better for those in poverty, although it does not do much for those making 2.01 times the poverty level…

    As I showed in my fee listing above, if St. Louis used the same approach this would still leave poor families unable to access the top private schools, and funnel them into low-budget religious schools which would be likely to evangelize in return for lower prices, or send them to schools created on the spot just to take advantage of the vouchers, schools which might provide little education for our tax money.

    Apparently there have been few non-partisan long term studies of the effects of vouchers during the last ten years, most importantly there are no studies of the effects on the public schools of the funnaling away of tax revenues from them. If they were truly successful, someone would have forked up the dough for the studies to show it.

    It does seem clear that tax dollars are being used to support the continued existence of religous schools at taxpayer expense:

    For many schools, the voucher payments are 80% to 100% of their income. That simple math, combined with shrinking congregations in many urban Catholic and Lutheran churches, leaves many principals to acknowledge that they would not exist without vouchers.

    If this came to St. Louis, I would be the first to urge my friends to see first hand if tax dollars are being used in a religiously neutral fashion, or merely to force taxpayers of one religion to support the evangelical efforts of competing religions. Maybe I could persuade Uncle Cliffie to start a Church of Satan parochial school….we might find out very quickly whether the supporters of vouchers are for real or just for their side…

  3. First of all, FUCK CLEVELAND. What they did with their voucher system is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, period.
    Secondly, I’m surprised that Steve Patteron would take such a position. Might the League been wrong about his progressive credentials? Is this some sort of “concession” to Archbishop Burke or Slay’s Lebanese Mafia?
    I mean, come on!!!
    Vouchers are all about undermining public education. The Church would like nothing better than to completely undermine public education so they can indoctrinate more unwitting children to blindly follow dogma.
    This is not to say public education has its problems, especially in the city. However, the problem does not lie with the teachers, the students, parents,or even with the administration. It has to do with the funding, or lack thereof. South side Catholic conservatives, led by Martin Duggan, have been campaigning for 30 years to destroy public education with this voucher bullshit. They are obstuctionists, nothing more, nothing less.
    I say 2 millenia is enough.

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