Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves|
by Senator Eric Johnson
In this space, GONSO's Executive Editor John Sugg recently offered his view about the drawbacks of school vouchers for Georgians. Click here to read Sugg's column.
Clearly, our society does not want government picking our doctor, where we live or worship, or where our children attend college.
But for more than 150 years this nation has tolerated allowing government to tell families where they must send their children to school for a K-12 public education.
In a truly free society, do we believe parents or government are best capable of making the decision where children should go to school? If the answer is parents, then they should have the right to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. After all, it is their children and their tax dollars that purchase educational services.
Under my voucher plan, Senate Bill 90, parents who want to transfer their child to another public or private school would earn a voucher equivalent to what the state pays to educate a child. A parent could choose to transfer their child to another public school within their home school system or another district. But the public school transfer can only happen if the school or district chooses to accept the child. That is local control in its purest form.
If a parent believes a private school might be more compatible, a state-funded voucher would be available to utilize at the private school of their choice. The average private school tuition among the state's 662 private schools is $5,800, according to a 2008 survey. The vast majority of schools are not expensive academies or prep schools, but church schools, Jewish day schools, and others with affordable tuition.
Whether a child transfers to a public or private school, the parent exercising choice would have to provide transportation. The parent and child would have to sign a contract that the child would not create behavior problems in that school. There would be no other government-imposed regulations on private schools.
We can follow the example of the HOPE scholarship and the state's pre-K program in creating a voucher program. With each of those, students are allotted public funds and parents can choose a public or private school to provide a college or pre-school education. With that model, SB 90 can be a K-12 voucher program with widespread success.
I firmly believe, as research has shown in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida, that public schools will improve when they are faced with actual competition. Wendy's makes a better hamburger because it may lose patrons to McDonald's. Public school administrators, fearful of losing students, will re-energize and work harder to improve their schools. When offered more options, parents are likely to become more engaged in their child's education just as they are when they choose a health care provider.
The status quo lobbyists will fight to the death to prevent one child from leaving their grips. But I have to ask, if they were doing such a great job, what do they have to fear? Cries of "disaster" are already being heard. Yet vouchers save taxpayers money and provide more funds for the students who remain in public schools. In fact, class sizes should get smaller. Local school boards and teachers should welcome that.
If we truly believe Georgia families are smart enough to pick a day care, college, a physician or a safe place to live, then surely we can entrust them to pick a place to send their children from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week. Let's see what happens when we do.
Eric Johnson is a Republican state Senator from Savannah. [full bio]