Thomas Sowell

The court cases that get the most media attention are not necessarily the cases that will have the most impact on the society. Despite all the controversy surrounding the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision outlawing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance or the Supreme Court's decision outlawing executions of murderers with low test scores, the decision with the greatest potential for benefiting American society is the Supreme Court's decision declaring vouchers constitutional, even if most of these vouchers end up being used at religious schools.

One of the main phony arguments against vouchers is now dead. Vouchers are no more a violation of the Constitution than the G.I. Bill that paid for the education of military veterans at Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and other religious colleges.

Opponents of vouchers have other phony arguments to fall back on, however. One is that vouchers will drain money away from the public schools, making it harder for them to provide a good education to the students remaining.

That argument is just bad arithmetic, perhaps brought on by fuzzy math. Vouchers almost invariably pay much less money than the average cost of educating students in the public schools. When students who cost $8,000 a year to educate in the public schools transfer to a private school with a $4,000 voucher, the total cost of educating all these students does not go up. It goes down.

Far from reducing per capita spending in the public schools, the departure of voucher students leaves more money per pupil for those left behind. It is of course true that the total sum of money in the public school may decline, but if half the students depart, should the school continue to get the same money it had when there were twice as many students?

This emphasis on money is a tragic farce, in view of all the research that shows virtually no correlation between spending per pupil and educational outcomes. Districts with some of the highest per pupil expenditures have some of the lowest test results, and vice versa. Countries that spend less than half as much per pupil outperform American students on international tests, year after year.

One of the most hypocritical objections made by opponents of vouchers is that the vouchers pay so little that they can only be used in religious schools. If that is the critics' real concern, why don't they advocate raising the amount of money per voucher?

In reality, those who are up in arms about disparities in per pupil expenditure from one public school district to another almost never advocate equalizing expenditures between voucher recipients and students in the public schools.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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