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March 1, 1993
Vol. 50
No. 6

View from a Private School

Jonathan Kozol, in discussing his opposition to vouchers, says, “It means that the kid in Mississippi would get a $2,500 voucher.... What can you buy with ... (that)?” Well, in Montgomery, Alabama, you could buy one year of education with $2,500 at 7 of the 10 non-public high schools in the city. In two of the others you could cover 70 percent of their annual tuition; in only one school does the amount come to less than 50 percent of the tuition figure. So here, at least, you could buy quite a bit of high school education—and even more at the elementary level.
Alex Molnar (“What Are Our Choices?”, pp. 84–85) states that “giving Milwaukee parents vouchers worth the amount currently spent on the education of children in the ... public school system ... will surely not provide their child the same education that the children who attend the north suburban district get.” If he intends “same” to mean “same quality,” his point is debatable. Studies have shown that Catholic schools do provide “quality” education at substantially less cost than public schools. Further, even if the suburban district did provide a “better” education with its $11,600 per pupil, the issue for parents might well be, “What is the best education I can get for my child with the current per-pupil spending in Milwaukee?” The answer could be a private school education.
And then, Arnold Fege (“Public Education: Can We Keep It?”, pp. 86–89) poses a gratuitous dichotomy: “The real choice, then, before the American people is not whether parents shall have more control over the education of their children, but whether the ideal of a common school system devoted primarily to the task of building a civic and academic community among the vast majority of citizens shall be given up in favor of private choice.” In the first place, the American people have no history of a “common school system” in terms of funding, governance, or curriculum—nor is it clear that they hold such a system as an ideal. But, second, to juxtapose parental control and “common school system” as incompatible is gratuitous; perhaps, indeed, they are symbiotically advantageous notions.
Finally, Fege's substitution of societal consensus for parental control is a chimera from a parent's perspective: parents with children in school are outnumbered three to one, and they have little access to the organs of communication to persuade others to their views. More than likely, “societal consensus” will run roughshod over parents' wishes while professional educators, lobbyists, sociologists, and bureaucrats will, with good intentions, express “their” consensus in newsletters, press releases, and professional journals.
End Notes

1 J. Cibulka, et al., (1982), Inner-City Private Elementary Schools, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press). On August 1, 1990, Education Week reported that in 1988–89 per-pupil expenditure for public schools was $4,719 compared to $1,476 for Catholic Schools.

Tom Doyle has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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