We must incentivize families to leave the public schools. Now.
In discussions of public school reform, a controversial issue is whether vouchers endanger homeschools. Voucher opponents argue that vouchers will lead to the unwanted regulation of homeschools. Voucher advocates contend that there is little or no risk to homeschools, and vouchers could deliver massive public policy benefits for conservatives.
A simple analysis shows that school vouchers are less risky than the current system. Even on the worst assumptions, voucher programs pose minimal risk to homeschools. Voucher opponents are reluctant to compare the massive public policy risks of the current system against the negligible risks of a voucher system. The recalcitrance of voucher opponents to realistically judge policy risk is helping the public school monopoly maintain its leftist indoctrination system.
Vouchers Pose Little Risk to Homeschoolers
Voucher opponents fail to address a very simple point. Even if we assume the absolute worst case—the complete government takeover of homeschools—there is still almost no risk for today’s homeschoolers.
Government cannot regulate if homeschools don’t take the money. To avoid regulatory risk, homeschoolers can do exactly what they are doing now: homeschool without taking voucher money. If homeschools just do what they already do, they are immune from government regulation. Change nothing, and acquire zero risk. It is obvious, yet it is rarely discussed in policy debates.
This observation is so simple, one is amazed how it escapes serious consideration by voucher opponents.
Vouchers Provide Massive Incentives for Families to Homeschool
School vouchers that pay homeschool families are a huge incentive to get kids out of public schools. The average per-pupil spending in Texas is about $9,800 per year. Under vouchers that pay homeschoolers, a family with two children could receive more than $18,000 to homeschool; that’s an incentive that will move many children out of public schools.
Will the Legislature allow homeschool families to get the same payments as public school monopolies and rich private schools? We’ll have to fight for homeschool families to participate in Texas’ constitutionally mandated school funding. That’s why we need to have a debate on how we should fund public schools, specifically on whether we should use vouchers that pay homeschools.
Public School Funding is Here to Stay
Let us first acknowledge that we have a public school system. It is mandated by the Texas Constitution. The Texas public school system is not going away anytime soon. In fact, there is no realistic policy trajectory for eliminating public schooling in Texas, ever.
The existence of the public schools and public school funding is therefore axiomatic for public policy purposes. Voucher opponents often fail to adequately appreciate the implications of this fact; they say it is not fair that we tax other people for our kids’ education, that we ought to end this kind of taxation.
One hears this utopian libertarian refrain on many issues. However, unlike other issues, school funding is constitutionally mandated. We cannot just pass a law to instantly privatize all education, and let a thousand flowers bloom, in a free education market. We should work over the long-term to end the public school monopoly, but it is not going to happen any time soon.
Just look at public school reform efforts. Reformers have been active for the last 30 years. Not only has reform failed, but the public school system is vastly worse than it was 30 years ago. Public school reform shows no progress, no promise, and no innovations that would give us optimism. Reform has failed. It’s time to admit it.
Public school funding will be with us for a very long time. This fact constrains realistic education policy-making. The question is not: What is the best way to eliminate the public school monopoly? The realistic question is: How can we use existing public school funding to help parents, kids, and promote conservatism?
The good news is that we can do both. We can realistically improve public school funding now, while we work idealistically for the long-term elimination of the public school monopoly itself. Vouchers are the way we can do that.
Current Incentives are Insufficient
It is a fever dream to expect the imminent demise of public schools. Some homeschoolers have more realistic hopes; they believe that changes to classrooms caused by COVID will lead to a mass migration from public schools to homeschools. There is some modest evidence that this is happening.
The AP reports that about 3 percent of students were homeschooled before the COVID lockdowns. During COVID, homeschooling increased to 4.9 percent. After COVID, the proportion of homeschoolers fell to 4 percent.
The COVID crisis pushed the proportion of homeschoolers up by almost 2 percent. Once schools opened again, half of those who chose to homeschool during COVID put their children back in public schools.
It is true that the lockdowns increased homeschool participation. However, the gains are not enough to build our hopes. The retrenchment of homeschool families back into public school shows that even the post-lockdown incentives are not enough to get even 2 percent more kids out of the public schools. That is risking the future of our kids and of Texas itself.
The Catastrophic Risk of Abandoning Kids to the Public Schools
The current school funding system will destroy the conservative majority in Texas. Unless we strongly incentivize families to remove their kids from public schools, there will be no one left to reform the schools in 30 years’ time. Our situation is dire, and time is short.
Another 30 years of reform efforts is unlikely to succeed. But for illustration purposes, assume it would succeed; that would leave 26 high school generations, and more than 80 percent of all students, in public schools. Waiting for reform would allow 30 years of intensifying the leftist indoctrination of millions of vulnerable students.
The indoctrination in schools is particularly insidious. Modern educators are using psychological techniques, propaganda, and gulag-style peer group manipulations to modify Texas children. These manipulations aim to alter emotional responses, tastes, and social structures. Teachers administer psychological tests to see how the manipulation techniques are working. The education establishment is perfecting the techniques of social construction, using our children as guinea pigs.
These techniques will allow the government to socially construct truth itself. That is the goal of the education establishment: to usurp the family’s role in teaching children social mores, customs, and traditions. Conservative ideas and the conservative temperament are taught and developed only in the traditional family. The schools aim to change that.
We cannot allow the public schools to succeed. If we do as voucher opponents say and leave kids in the system, working for reform only, we risk a permanent loss of the conservative majority in Texas. We risk the end of the traditional Texas way of life. Indeed, the existence of Texas itself is in the balance.
Vouchers are a Morally Superior Way of Funding Schools
School vouchers allocate money more like markets. The people and institutions that educate kids get the money, then the money follows the child and goes to the people that labor to educate the child.
If a child attends a public school, the public school gets the money. If a child attends a private school, the private school gets the money. If a child attends a homeschool, the family keeps the money.
That last one is controversial. Some of the voucher programs being considered do not allow homeschool families to receive school funding. This is a typical tactic of the liberal Republican establishment; they want education money going to cronies in the education establishment. Even the Republican establishment does not want public school money going to homeschool families, who then make their own education decisions.
Vouchers are a more moral way to distribute education funding. The state pays the party that educates the child, not an entitled bureaucracy. Even better, parents decide who the state pays to educate their child. That’s not a market, but it is much more like a market, and it would be an improvement.
Homeschool vouchers would allow families to pay themselves their own tax money to educate their children, which would give ultimate freedom for family education choices. Homeschool vouchers are something every conservative should want.
Adding homeschools to voucher programs ought to be a top priority of all education freedom advocates. It the only moral course for education funding.
Voucher Opponents Misjudge Risk
Voucher opponents do not see it that way. They hold to a conventional wisdom about government power: government regulation follows government money. Most of us would readily agree with this wisdom. The agreement ends, however, on the question of how to reform the school funding system.
Agreement ends because public schools are here to stay. There will be public school funding—the only short-term question is how we will do it. Many voucher opponents pretend that public schools will be presently eliminated. Certainly, if public schools were eliminated, the catastrophic risks described above would not obtain. The problem is that big fat “if.” Public schools are not going away anytime soon, and we must stop pretending that they will.
We are in a race against time. We have to get the majority of children out of the public schools before we reach a social and political tipping point. Time is our enemy. Any rational evaluation of policy risk must account for this risk; voucher opponents almost uniformly do not.
Voucher opponents argue under the pretense that (1) they can speedily reform the public schools and succeed, and (2) during that time there will be no permanent harm done to children, society, the electorate, or politics. Both claims are false. I call these two often unstated assumptions the “anti-voucher pretense.”
As explained above, there are catastrophic risks from the current system. These risks are disastrous and very likely to occur. Voucher opponents have already spent 30 years trying to reform the school system. They have failed. We have evidence. We have facts. Demonstrably, the first claim of voucher opponents fails. There will be no speedy reform of the current school system.
The second claim is defeated by simple observation of the current system. It is harming students, right now. It is altering the voting patterns of the electorate, right now. It is altering the social structures among young people, including their relationship with work and education, right now. It is going to get worse.
Voucher opponents have not adequately accounted for the risk of leaving the vast majority of students in public schools for a long time. Voucher opponents have not adequately assessed the failures of the school reform movement. Voucher opponents are stuck in a policy rut. We must do something different, and we must do it now. Vouchers are the best short-term policy alternative.
Vouchers are the Best Policy
Vouchers that pay homeschools are the way forward. Vouchers are the most moral way to fund schools. Vouchers are the most efficient way to fund schools. Vouchers give massive incentives for parents to homeschool. Vouchers mitigate the catastrophic risk of leaving kids in the current system.
Pursue public school reform, yes; but to mitigate catastrophic short-term risks, we must also enact a voucher school funding system, now.
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