Vouchers can fix the system
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, October 12, 1992
No issue on the Nov. 3 ballot is more important for Colorado’s future than Amendment 7 to create vouchers for school choice. Reason: Public schools are in trouble. They are not performing. Colorado Governor Roy Romer and the National Governor’s Association have been leaders nationally in documenting the extent to which public schools are failing our children and our society.
A recent “report card” issued by the National Educational Goals panel showed many disturbing signs:
- Only 14% of American eighth graders can solve math problems involving fractions, decimals, percentages and simple algebra;
- Only one-third of eighth graders can figure the cost of a meal from a menu;
- Only one-third of 11th graders can write a coherent paragraph about themselves.
Each year we send our kids back into public schools that are not working. Every other November, citizens are asked to approve tax increases at the state or local level, to give the education bureaucracy more control over our money. In most states, money available to the education bureaucracy has increased dramatically ‹by one-third in inflation-adjusted dollars in Colorado – during the past decade, even though most performance measures are declining.
It is time to give other institutions a chance to do the job. Public education is one of the few places in our society where we insist that a public service be provided by a monopoly government agency. We let private contractors build public roads. We use a mix of public and private contractors to maintain them.
The federal food stamp program uses private grocery stores, not publicly run commissaries to distribute food to those below poverty line. More than 20 states now use private contractors to run state prisons.
There is no reason public education cannot be provided by a mix of public and private agencies. First, we need to give parents and students a choice in where they go to school.
Second, we need more diversity in our schools. Some parents want “back to basics.” Others want “open schools.” The “one-size-fits-all” approach can no longer be justified.
Third, we need to provide a voucher to parents with school-age children. The voucher will do two things. First, it will empower parents to exercise the choice they are given to select the school their kids attend. In fact, the cost of many private and parochial schools is less than the value of the voucher contained in amendment 7.
Second, vouchers will create more diversity in the education system. Reason: Many new schools – both public and private – will form in response to the existence of vouchers.
Colorado voters could be the first in the nation to approve vouchers. Those voting “yes” on Amendment 7 will give Colorado the opportunity to lead the nation in education innovation. It is a chance to empower parents and to innovate through competition. It is an opportunity to achieve true accountability by giving parents a choice. Vouchers provide an opportunity to achieve true accountability by giving parents a choice. Vouchers provide an opportunity for creative public school teachers to rise to the top because their schools will need them to compete for the vouchers that will pay their salaries.
Change is never easy. It is always resisted by entrenched interests. But too much is at stake to permit business as usual. That is why a “yes” vote on Amendment 7 in Colorado provides a unique opportunity for Colorado voters to fix a system that is not working.