Every thinking person recognizes that sustenance is a vital to life and programs managed by the federal government attempt to diminish the occurrence of malnutrition, delivering physical sustenance to the impoverished. While this objective could be accomplished through a rationed distribution of basic staples, the federal government of course employs a less efficient method.
The government enables each person on food stamps to purchase food items through the existing market options, granting a plethora of options to food stamp benefit recipients. After all, forcing those in need of food to choose from a prescribed list of canned vegetables, tuna fish, and SPAM is needlessly prohibitive in a nation as developed as ours.
While the government prevents malnutrition by guaranteeing all citizens access to food choices, policy makers continue to restrict the access of the poor to educational choices. For school age children, the public option is often the only possible route to learning. Is education to be reckoned so much less valuable than food? Is not education as essential to the human spirit as food to the body? In some school districts, many graduates are only functionally literate. Can society truly say such a person is equipped to succeed?
Politicians employing the terminology “social justice” often do so in an effort to justify ever-increasing levels of government spending and economic intervention for the less enfranchised among us. While the government spends vast sums of money on public education, the performance in many districts is dismal. For example, Washington D.C. public schools spend approximately $19,000 of taxpayer money per pupil, more than any of the fifty states. Yet, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that these same schools collectively rank last.
Does achieving social justice in these situations merely involve funneling more funds into failing schools? No – true social justice demands granting children who are trapped in a cycle of dependence and ignorance, a way out.
And school voucher programs are an example of that way out.
School vouchers allow all children, regardless of family income level, access to higher quality education. In addition, voucher programs force public schools to compete for students in order to obtain funding. Employment policy, teaching methods, and curriculum must endure reforms in order to remain “in business.” Meanwhile, the private schools funded by school vouchers can operate with an agility and innovation often absent in a public school bureaucracy. Special interest groups within school districts currently impede the academic progress of millions of students. If these groups are deprived of their power, reform becomes a possibility.
What better way to achieve social justice than by empowering students from impoverished backgrounds? School vouchers enable kids to dream by expelling ignorance and enlightening minds. Does not social justice demand that learning opportunities be less dependent on the economic circumstances of one’s birth?
As it stands now, a private school tuition of approximately $10,000 per pupil is likely unthinkable for a couple with two children earning a modest income of $50,000. Yet, a school district will spend more than $10,000 educating each child belonging to this couple. Should not the parent be free to choose a better option for a child, especially when this choice will incur no additional cost to the community? To force a parent in this situation to place children in a dismally performing school is not just.
Improved access to quality education, increased parental choice, a more tailored approach to instruction, and more efficient public schools are goals all policy makers should support. The essence of social justice demands it.