George P. Drake, Jr., Ph.D.
I suspect most taxpayers are not really unhappy to have a portion of their tax dollars earmarked to support public servants, including police officers and fire fighters. Although we might grumble about paying taxes, I don’t think we are truly bothered by that expense, in fact, the level of protection our tax dollars help support gives comfort to many. And when a cop or fire fighter comes to our rescue, we realize they are worth every cent.
But imagine a society in which, in addition to public cops and fire fighters, there was also a robust private sector of police and fire services. As a resident, you would have the choice of relying on your local cops and fire companies or you could opt out of those public services by looking through the yellow pages and selecting a private police and/or fire service. If you were robbed or woke up to smoke in the middle of the night, you would call your private contractor to respond to your emergency.
Setting aside for a moment the risk inherent in having multiple police and fire services in a single municipality (e.g., a longer response time when a passerby upon seeing smoke in your house calls the wrong fire service or a multiple vehicle accident scene in which all parties have contracts with different police services) there might not be anything inherently wrong with having this choice, right? As long as the tax dollars that supports the public police and fire services are not diverted, support that is necessary since it is unlikely that public police and fire departments could go away entirely.
Now imagine the same scenario, but now the government has decided that if you are unhappy with the performance of your local public cops and firefighters, you can get a credit equal to the per capita cost of maintaining those services and use it to hire the services of private police and fire services. You always had the choice to do this, but now the government is offering you a voucher to help cover the cost of your choice. How would that effect public services? Would the loss of operating dollars make it just that much more difficult for those cops and firefighters to improve the services they provide, particularly when they knew they needed to improve and where striving to do so?
Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), which is currently in the Education Committee of the PA House of Representatives, proposes to do much the same thing to education. SB 1 will provide tuition vouchers (called Opportunity Scholarships) to low income students who attend school in the lowest performing schools in the Commonwealth. Families who choose to take advantage of the vouchers could send their children to other schools, including private and parochial schools, assuming those schools would accept them (they are not required to do so). The voucher would equal the per-pupil state subsidy the child’s school district receives from the state; it is conceivable that some vouchers could approach $10,000.
That’s $10,000 per child being taken from the school district that is underperforming and working hard to do something about it.
Of course, we don’t have a robust private sector of police and fire services, there are too many important reasons why neither would work. We do have a robust private sector in schooling for our children, but it competes with our public schools, public schools fully funded by tax dollars. Parents have the choice to send their children to selective private or parochial schools, but those parents, as residents, still have an obligation to do their share to fund local public schools.
What do you think? Want to see vouchers come to Pennsylvania?
You have homework this time. I have included links below providing further information and various opinions on vouchers. Do some further reading and let me know what you think?
Until next time…