In its recent provincial budget, the Harris government introduced the first step in a voucher system a tax credit for parents who want to send their kids to private schools. The refundable tax credit will be phased in over 5 years:
- 2002 10% of tuition costs per child to a maximum of $700 increasing by 10% each year until
- 2006 50% of tuition costs to a maximum of $3,500.
What are Vouchers?
Vouchers are financial incentives for middle-class families to take their children out of public schools.
Vouchers allow parents to choose what schools their children attend. Instead of giving money to the schools, vouchers give money to the parents.
Vouchers are like giving families $700 cash to spend on fire protection for your home. It may sound like a lot of money, but it won’t buy a fire truck, or pay firefighters’ salaries or pay for hydrant installation and upkeep. A public system shares those costs among all residents so that everyone can have an accessible system that’s there when they need it. The same is true for vouchers they are not an effective way to provide services for everybody!
Who wants vouchers and why?The Harris government wants vouchers because it saves them money and promotes their bias in favour of privatization!
Some parents think they want vouchers because:
They are frustrated that they can’t send kids to the school of their choice under the current system they may want a different music program, or stricter discipline, or smaller classes the list goes on.
They want their children to learn in a religious environment, according to their faith.
They think that competition among schools will inspire schools to improve.
They believe their kids will achieve better in private schools.
In the States, voucher promoters tend to be the right wing advocates who want to dismantle the public education system in favour of a competition-driven private system. However, vouchers are losing their appeal, as Americans experience their effects. In November 2000, California’s voucher initiative, Proposition 38, was overwhelmingly defeated. California’s Catholic Bishops refused to campaign for the passage of Proposition 38, complaining that the initiative failed to “serve the poor.”
Whatever the reason, parents seek alternatives to the public system often because they believe the system is failing them. Why? Because the Harris Tories have been relentless about creating a crisis in public education. Their long-term goal is to privatize education because they think private is better whether it’s water, health care or schools.
They’ve taken $2 billion dollars out of education funding, attacked teachers’ prep time, cut staff and services all to make the public think the system is deteriorating. And soon, they will argue that the private sector should manage education because the public system has failed. Well, they’re wrong. The public system is among the best in the world, and CUPE is fighting to keep it that way.
What happens to public schools if vouchers are introduced?
Tax credits and vouchers take money out of the public system. The Harris funding formula funds schools on a per capita basis. So for every student that leaves the public system the board loses about $5,700.
The government keeps that money, and out of it, pays the tax credit. So, the government saves $5,000 [$5,700 - $700 (in 2002) = $5,000].
Some estimate the tax credit will divert $300 million or more away from the public system. That’s $300 million that won’t go to textbooks, school repairs, and special needs kids.
More private schools will spring up. If parents can write-off part of tuition costs, it will help private schools that already exist, and encourage others to be established. Many private schools will respond to this increased demand by becoming even more “selective,” or by raising their tuition, or both.
Private schools are not accountable they don’t have to report on their budgets, enrolment, or curriculum. Unlike the public system, they are not required to accept anyone who applies. They can let people in and keep people out as they choose.
Are private schools really any better? Many people believe that students do better in private schools. But the evidence is mixed at best. Test scores are often used to argue that private schools are better but test scores can be deceiving. If a school accepts only the best and the brightest, then of course student achievement will appear higher - they’ve weeded out those who bring the average down!
Statistical evidence from the 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress actually found “the longer students stay in private schools, the worse they do, and the longer students stay in public schools, the better they do.” In the long term, public schools have a better shot at creating culturally diverse environments, which teach kids how to analyze rather than memorize.
The bottom line is that vouchers are public money supporting private schooling. There is a lot of public resistance to the Tories voucher initiative. A recent poll done for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) showed only 26% of respondents support government funding for private schools. Even though public schools are not perfect, they are still one of the most important safeguards for democracy and equality in our Canadian society.