Voucher Advocates Motivated by Compassion

Published July 30, 2003

In his July 21 Letter “Voucher Backers Have a Privatizing Agenda,” Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, accurately reports my views on school vouchers but does a disservice to the school choice movement.

Mr. Neas quotes me saying vouchers are the “way to privatize schooling” and “pilot voucher programs for the urban poor will lead the way to statewide universal voucher plans. Soon, most government schools will be converted into private schools or simply close their doors.” I stand by those statements.

No one familiar with even elementary economics and the dismal condition of government schools in the U.S. can possibly overlook the role played by the current public school monopoly on public funding. Parental choice and competition among schools–public and private–is essential for inner-city neighborhoods, where the government schools are particularly bad and private (primarily religious) schools are closing at an alarming rate. It is also needed in smaller cities and even affluent suburbs where schools are graduating (or failing to graduate) students able to compete with those from other countries.

Statements such as mine, Mr. Neas says, “leave little doubt about the agenda of many in the voucher movement.” Actually, in my two decades of advocacy for school choice, I have come to understand that most people active in this movement are motivated by compassion for the poor, the need to improve government schools, and outrage over waste and mismanagement in government schools. “Privatization” is not part of their vocabulary.

Alas, the motivation of those who defend the status quo is much more singular–the desire to protect the high wages and perks that come from being a supplier to a government monopoly. Front groups such as People for the American Way provide window dressing for those who profit from the current injustice, but their scam will soon end. Economics and justice demand changes in the years ahead, and they will not be denied.

Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute. This letter was published by the Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2003. Bast’s email address is [email protected].