A school voucher system has been seen as a revolutionary yet realistic policy for libertarians. This would mean that the state allocates a monthly or annual voucher to families so that they can decide for themselves where to send their children to school and what education they receive. Many libertarians, most notably Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek has argued that this would provide more choice for students and less state intervention in the education sector.
However, as noble as their cause is, I’d argue that this is still too statist of a solution and one which will continue to cause corruption and state dependency. To paraphrase Dan Sanchez, editor in Chief of the Foundation for Economic Education, wisely commented: the voucher system is a trojan horse for the state to continue to infiltrate private education.
President and Founder of the Council Oak Montessori School of Marsha Familaro Enright, has argued that the school voucher system would increase elitism and corruption. This is because it would give power to bureaucrats to decide the standard of education that private schools would have to comply with in order to be involved in the school voucher program. Enright points to Belgium as an example:
“In 1917, they instituted a voucher program to enable students to go to private and religious schools. Over the years, the schools have come to be more and more regulated by the state so that now, there’s no significant difference between them.”
This can also be seen by Florida’s attempt to implement a voucher system where private schools must file ongoing financial reports to the state, and employ teachers who hold a higher degree or three years of teaching experience, and grant the government veto power over any disciplinary procedures.
As Ludwig von Mises Institute founder, Lew Rockwell, commented; “After the government gets through with them, these private schools might as well be public schools.”
Furthermore, while many libertarians see the voucher system as a step closer to a complete free market education system, it may end up creating even more welfare dependency. It may merely be seen as another welfare benefit instead of a way to economically liberate students. As with any other benefit, there would be constant demands to raise the voucher payment and hoards of special interests lobbying the government to attach more and more conditions.
While parents and students will have greater autonomy over their education, they may not be as responsible with the money since they will not have to foot the bill for this. The school voucher system is like giving an Argos catalogue to a child who will get angry when their parents won’t buy everything they’ve circled. This would continue to be a great burden on the taxpayer who will have to fund these expensive programs.
The reality is that a voucher system would increase, not reduce, government involvement in education. A better free market solution would be to allow tax rebates to incentivise students to take control of their education. This would allow students to have more choice and decentralise the education system.
One counter argument against this, which David Friedman pointed out, tax rebates would be useless for poor students who don’t pay enough tax to get it back. This fails to mention the impact of private charity and scholarships towards gifted students. The successful alumni of private schools are often keen to provide schools with funding in order to carry on their legacy. With the increase in funding towards private school, there would likely be an increase of opportunities for poor students.
There are other options to give students more choice and control over their education than the bureaucracy of the voucher system. The reality is that implementing a voucher system would not uplift state schools but bring independent schools down to their level.