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Is it really the children?
Jonathan Pait
July 6, 2002

They seem to love an institution more than the children. These are the people all up in arms about the possibility of vouchers or school choice in our state. Of course, they try to use the old liberal tactic of attempting to make conservatives look like “child-haters,” but in this case it rings hollow.

Here is their argument. They believe vouchers or tax credits would take funding from the South Carolina public schools currently under pressure to meet higher standards. This money would instead go to higher income families that already have children in the private sector. Of course, we all know lower funding equals lower performance.

Pretty good argument—if it was based on an accurate premise. First of all, lower funding does not equal lower performance. The private school and home school sector has proven that again and again.

The educational liberals in our state would like everyone to have a picture of private education where the students arrive in SUVs to enter swank halls of learning with all the latest and greatest in educational equipment. “See, there is where your money would go! Now, look at these poor kids over here. . .” Problem for the liberals, it simply isn’t true.

Sure, there are some nice private schools around—especially in Greenville. However, get away from Greenville and you will find small church run schools with about 150 to 200 students at most. Some of these schools meet in Sunday school classrooms off of a church auditorium. If they have computers, they were probably donated and most people wouldn’t use them for a home machine. Oh, teacher pay—take a look at these paychecks and public school teacher pay looks like winning the lottery!

These schools easily spend less than half per student what the state earmarks for public school attendees. Still, they score consistently on par or better than public school students on any test you might want to throw them. In other words, “it ain’t the money stupid!”

Then again, would vouchers actually take money from the public schools? “Of course, it would,” you say. Here is where I say that the educational liberals are more interested in the institution than the children. Supposedly, the money that comes from the government to fund public education is based on the number of students; one student equals a certain amount of funds.

Take for instance a class of 24 students. The government funds each student at a certain amount for a year. Obviously, each student will need books, food, etc. The buildings will have to be of a sufficient size to hold all the students. Per student funding theoretically goes to pay for that student’s space and materials.

Let’s say that 10 parents of inner-city students decide they want to send their children to a private school. Suddenly, there are only 14 students in the class introduced above. Hey, now that is a great student teacher ratio and we didn’t even need to hire a new teacher or build a new building! Yep, we don’t have to buy as much food or order as many text books.

Here is the dirty secret. The money does not go to pay only for the students’ space and materials. It also goes to fund the institution. The student is a commodity used to increase the funding. More students equal more money. Ultimately, the money that should be tied to the student's direct needs is tied to programs, teacher unions and administration. Oh, and don’t forget the power the local school boards get to enjoy spending all that tax money.

It is the bureaucracy and the special interests that people like Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland wish to protect—not the children. He is quoted in The State on July 6th as saying about the recent Supreme Court ruling on vouchers, "The ruling was very close, but it was no surprise given the ideological bent of the court. Vouchers are part of a right-wing agenda."

Okay, if we are going to lower ourselves to that level, I’ll just conclude by saying that you, Mr. Neal, are a supporter of that left-wing agenda that believes that only the government can effectively educate our children. You will destroy the system you love while at the same time destroying the opportunities for thousands of young people to get what schools are supposed to provide—a basic education.

Do you really care about the children?

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