Saturday, July 11, 2020
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The Market Economy Won’t Save America’s Schools

Unfortunately, the tax dollars allocated to public schools never truly impacted my education because I was privileged enough to attend private school all my life. According to the State of California Franchise Tax Board, 30.1 percent of California tax dollars go towards K-12 public school education. Certainly, it would have been great if my parents received a voucher that paid for my schooling in exchange for all the taxes that they paid to sustain our public education budget. Betsy DeVos, our current Education Secretary, appointed by President Trump, has proposed that such vouchers be expanded to a national scale.

At first, I was a huge proponent of the plan — it seemed only fair for my parents to be able to reap the benefits of their taxes just like any other Californian attending public school, but this view was highly selfish and shortsighted.

According to researchers at Tulane University and UC Berkeley, voucher programs, which have been implemented across 25 states, have little to no impact on the efficacy of low-performing schools — which DeVos is ostensibly trying to fix. DeVos believes that by giving students in low-performing schools an option to attend private school, she could increase the competition between schools, and force substandard schools to improve their educational system.

Unfortunately, the same research by UC Berkeley and Tulane University showed that students who have used vouchers to attend private schools perform worse academically than their non-voucher counterparts. Much of these results confound educational experts who expected the plan to work.

This unfortunate statistic stems from how the American Federation of Children (AFC), which was chaired by Betsy DeVos until she was appointed Secretary of Education, dealt with the public funds that supported the voucher program: most of the private schools that AFC funded were failing. Not all the private schools in the 25 states that have implemented the program accept the vouchers, but the ones that do are often religious institutions that are falling under and need monetary assistance. On top of this apparent failure, AFC promotes religious private schools, many of which support a creationist curricula. As a matter of fact, Betsy DeVos has been a huge proponent of Christian religious education and has publically stated that educational reform is a way to “advance God’s kingdom.”

So, there is certainly an ulterior motive behind this voucher program and it calls into question DeVos’ biases. The fact that she wants to Christianize this country through government funds questions the secular ideals this country was founded on. Government is not supposed to promote a certain religion in this country, or at least many people hope that is the case. So, aside being a faulty framework, the voucher system is also in opposition to the United State’s ideals.

As aforementioned, the logic behind the voucher program is to increase competition between public and private schools so underperforming public schools can improve their ratings. This is essentially subjecting the educational system to market disciplines and turning schools into businesses. Studies in Indiana and Louisiana, where the voucher program have been accepted, show that these market mechanisms are far from beneficial. As a matter of fact, it shows that these commercial systems are bad for learning and turn students into numbers.

DeVos anticipates that the vouchers will go to students in underperforming schools, but she has yet to place an income cap on those who receive the aid. According to The Atlantic, the lack of an income cap increases the likelihood that wealthier students receive the vouchers, at the expense of their poorer counterparts. As seen in Nevada, which has already implemented a “universal voucher program,” many of the families using the vouchers were from the wealthiest part of Reno and Las Vegas because they had better access to the vouchers. This further perpetuates the class disparities already prevalent in the U.S..

Essentially, underlying DeVos’ education plan is the intention of introducing a market discipline into the public school system as well as promoting religious education. Her plan will not help those who need quality education the most and will simply inculcate individuals with Christian doctrines because the large majority of schools that accept the vouchers are religious institutions. Her idea of promoting competition amongst schools turns the educational system into a market economy in which schools will serve their students only if it benefits the school fiscally.

Sharmin Shanur is a first-year cognitive sciences major. She can be reached at