Red Pajamas, Blue Pajamas: How vouchers, tax-credits, and charter schools hurt education

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by Marshall Fritz

Last updated April 12, 2007


As bedtime nears, mom says to three-year-old Johnny, “Red pajamas, or blue pajamas?” Giving Johnny a small choice usually deflects him from the larger question of whether or not to fight bedtime. (Husband alert: Do not attempt this technique with your wife! Relationships deteriorate when an adult “infantilizes” another adult.)


Tax funding of schooling infantilizes parents by taking over their duty to decide how much to spend on their children’s education. The American spirit of voluntary interdependence has been gradually cooked out of us by this infantalizing. Here is how it happened and two proposed solutions, one bad, one good.


How Americans got into the school mess


In the 1840s, after 220 years of successful private-, charity-, church-, and home-schooling, some Americans who were fueled by religious bigotry turned their backs on the American Revolution. They created the common school.


They swallowed whole the socialist-utopian nostrum that “every child has a right to an education at the neighbors’ expense.” This fake right had a dark underside:


Parents cannot be trusted to care for their children, but politicians can.


By 1999, parents of 88 percent of America’s school age children (46 of 52 million) use “school-welfare.” After six-generations of tax-funded schooling, not only do parents deeply resent being told that they are on the edu-dole, the infantalizing is so complete that many suburbanites put more effort into deciding the purchase of a new van than they do into deciding in which school district to live. These infantalized parents lap up the real-estate agent’s drivel that “this school district is one of the best in the state.” One wag says, “In the race of the slow, someone must be first.”


The rapid decline of tax-run schools in the last three decades, punctuated by the Columbine Public High School killings, has made moving to a better school district less attractive to the middle class. (It was never economically feasible for the poor.) In hopes of relief, many conservatives and libertarians are proposing a tax-financed option of sending children to a private school. This is so attractive to blacks that their support for vouchers now outstrips white, and it is so much in keeping with liberalism that Democrats support for vouchers is now higher than Republican.


The bad solution


School vouchers, charter schools and camouflaged vouchers in the form of tax-credits, will continue the infantalizing of the parents of the 46 million already on the dole; worse, they will entice many of the families of 5 million children who use voluntarily funded schools to surrender their independence, too. They will “reverse-wean” and begin nursing on OPM (Other People’s Money).


“Choice” proponents have misidentified the problem. Americans are not so much faced with a shortage of choice; rather, we are faced with a shortage of responsibility. Government provision of a voucher, allowing parents to make a red-pajama/blue-pajama decision, will glue even more parents to the government fiscal nipple, a reasonable position of children of the state.


Further, by blindfolding the private school’s admissions office, vouchers destroy the very schools they purport to help. Today, private schools choose families who are willing to sacrifice to pay for their children’s education. With a voucher, families who care little about education will be indistinguishable from the sacrificially-minded parents. While today’s private school can work with 1-5 percent troublemakers, the voucher can increase this to 10-30 percent, overwhelming and trashing the private schools’ culture down to the level of today’s government schools.


The good solution


When we repeal tax-financing of schools, parents will be left with the awesome decision, “How much should we spend on the children’s education?” No other factor will get parents so involved in their children’s education as paying for it.


And what about the have-nots? Full separation of school and state is the surest way to help them break out of the poverty cycle of dependence. Yes, $25 billion in additional contributions to private scholarship foundations are needed, but this increase is prudently predictable considering the American history of giving (presently $175 billion) and the $300 billion tax cut that will accompany Educational Freedom.


In order to improve education, American parents must again be responsible for their children’s education. This means nothing less than ending state, federal, and local government involvement with the financing and content of K-12 schooling.


This will allow parents to make real decisions, not just choose between red pajamas and blue pajamas.


This article is copyrighted by the Alliance for the Separation of School & State. Permission is granted to freely distribute this article as long as this copyright notice is included in its entirety.