Vouchers Also Cost Taxpayers Less


  • Wall Street Journal
  • MAY 12, 2011

Jason L. Riley’s “The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work” (op-ed, May 3) might have mentioned what for many might be the most important reason to send kids to private school: the huge savings to taxpayers.

The stunning total taxpayer cost of the inferior Washington, D.C public schools is over $28,000 per student. Even after pulling the special-ed kids’ cost out of the average, the taxpayers are paying about $23,000 per D.C. public-school student.

Contrast that absurd public-school outlay with the cost of a D.C. education voucher—up to $7,500 per student. The actual average D.C. voucher school charges only $6,620 (many are Catholic schools).

Taxpayers save over $15,000 annually in direct costs per D.C. voucher student. Another plus for private schools is that there is no unfunded public-pension taxpayer liability.

D.C. is running a highly restricted voucher program, complete with a lottery to pick the lucky few low-income recipients. Instead, D.C. (and urban school districts throughout the nation) should be moving toward an orderly transfer of the education of our young from government to private schools. That is, we should do so if we care more about the kids and taxpayers than we do about the powerful education labor unions.

Richard Rider

San Diego

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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4 Responses to “Vouchers Also Cost Taxpayers Less”

  1. crs52 Says:

    I don’t know where you got your figures but the notion that voucher will save taxpayers money is ludicrous. These are precisely the same arguments that industry used to convince government that for-profit medical insurance would be better- it isn’t, and the cost to the taxpayer has become increasingly unsustainable while delivering an increasingly inferior product in which there is no real “choice.” The real motive was to direct public money into private coffers, which is exactly what the voucher system is iintended to do. And there is no evidence that vouchers and charters schools preduce a superior education- just a more expensive one, and any fool should be able to see that since vouchers would have to be astronomical to cover the cost of private education, the end result is that millions will no longer be able to afford it. A better solution would be quit slashing educational funding, (as every Republican since Nixon has done) and then blaming it on an “inadequate system” when the truth is that it has been inadequately funded for decades.
    The founders of this country absolutely believed that public education was a function of government, and if you don’t believe that, you don’t know your history.

  2. Richard Rider Says:

    Goofy posting by crs52. There were NO government funded or run public schools when the nation was founded, and no talk of same. CERTAINLY no discussion of federal funding for schools.

    And his ignorance of the cost of private education is amazing. Clearly he didn’t read the linked WSJ article, trusting instead to his vacuous intelligence.

    Apparently this genius is the product of social promotion.

    I’ll copy and paste some comments I made in the WSJ on this topic.

  3. Richard Rider Says:


    NOTE: The first comment is my unabridged letter to the editor (also run as a comment). I enclose that because it includes some URL links for verification of assertions.

    This is an excellent op-ed, yet it ignores what for many might be the most important reason to send kids to private school — the huge savings to taxpayers.

    The stunning total taxpayer cost of the inferior D.C public schools is over $28,000 per student.
    http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2010/02/dc-public-schools-129-trillion-28170.html [from CATO study]

    Even after pulling the special ed kids’ cost out of the average, the taxpayers are paying about $23,000 per D.C. public school student.

    Contrast that absurd public school outlay with the cost of a D.C. education voucher — up to $7,500 per student. Indeed, the actual average D.C. voucher school charges only $6,620 (many are catholic schools).

    Click to access 20094050.pdf

    Taxpayers save potentially over $15,000 annually in direct costs per D.C. voucher student. Another plus for private schools — there is no unfunded public pension taxpayer liability — a massive problem lurking in most if not all public school systems.

    D.C. is running a highly restricted voucher program — complete with a lottery to pick the lucky few low income recipients. Instead, D.C. (and urban school districts throughout the nation) should be moving towards an orderly transfer of the education of our young from government to private schools via vouchers and/or tax credits.

    That is, we should do so if we care more about the kids and taxpayers than we do about the powerful education labor unions.

    Never mind. My bad.


    Regardless of researcher/funding bias, there are only two results found when studying public vs. private education:

    1. Private education is superior


    2. Private education is no better than public education

    In other words, there are NO reputable studies showing that private education is INFERIOR to public education.

    So, given the huge taxpayer savings available from issuing vouchers to students to go to private schools (in D.C.’s case, over $15K annually per student), what possible rational case can be made for continuing the overpriced public education model?


    Actually, your suggested valid comparison [that the way to measure private school superiority is by comparing D.C. education lottery voucher winners vs. losers — all have same parental support and basic education capabilities at the time of the lottery] was EXACTLY what the article talks about — winners vs. losers in the education voucher lottery.

    Results? 91% of private school voucher winners graduate from high school vs. 70% of the lottery losers who stayed in public schools.


    Nice try, Marvin (proponent for public school monopolies).

    MARVIN: Private schools don’t have to deal with the cost of special ed kids in public schools

    RIDER: If we take out the cost of the special ed students in the D.C. schools, taxpayers are STILL paying a total of about $23,000 per public school student.

    MARVIN: Private high schools are very expensive.

    RIDER: Like all K-12 school districts, that means the D.C. district is paying significantly less than $23,000 for K-8 and significantly MORE for 9-12.

    The solution is obvious — a two-tier school voucher — say, $6,000 for K-8 and $10,000 for 9-12. Or $12K, or even $15K for high school — a cost FAR less than the $25K plus the D.C. district doubtless currently pays for its grade 9-12 day-prisons.

    It’s true that such amounts will not pay the full tuition for ALL private schools. No matter. Parents have better choices than just public schools (choices THEY prefer), we taxpayers save, and the kids get AT LEAST as good an education as the unsafe D.C. public schools offer.

    It should be mentioned that many of the high-priced private schools offer partial scholarships, based on an ability to pay. Their tony D.C. clientele likes diversity, and puts up money to help make it so. Vouchers can and would be at least partially supplemented by such funding.

    BTW, in San Diego, we have a superb private school (the Winston School) for special ed kids — with the tuition often paid by the district. No reason D.C. special ed kids can’t have supplemental vouchers for private care/schooling. D.C. doesn’t have such schools — simply because the district won’t pay for the service.

    MARVIN: There’s no room in D.C. to build new private schools to meet voucher demand:

    RIDER: The reduction in public school students would allow private schools to lease empty school buildings (we do that in my city of San Diego).

    Face it, Marvin, when we dig through your lame objections, we can see that your underlying concern is the public school EMPLOYEES (notably your wife). What’s best for kids is of only passing interest — and you care not a whit for taxpayer costs.


    As a prof/govt employee, you blithely assert that giving kids vouchers would not increase the supply of private schools. Such economic illiteracy is both breathtaking and appalling.

    OF COURSE there would be more private schools — and an expansion of the existing private schools. Furthermore public schools with smaller enrollments can be consolidated, with the abandoned schools leased to private schools (as we do now in San Diego).

    Surely you detest the greedy nature of business people — don’t you think that greed will inspire such evil people (and education nonprofits) to provide the product if there is increased, predictable recurring demand? The only problem is that you couldn’t give ALL the kids these vouchers at one time — it would require an orderly, staged and predictable transition.

    Imagine that all the kids in a city have (or will have on an established date) a $6,000-$10,000 voucher, redeemable for private education selected by the parents. Are you so isolated in your Ivory Tower that you think that no additional schools will open to meet this demand — and at a price that will not cost such parents much (if any) extra?

    Breathtaking indeed. What the heck are you a professor of? Ethnic Studies? Art? Theater? Public Education? Mail Order Diplomas?



    Have you really thought about the CURRENT public school “standards”? ESPECIALLY in D.C.?

    Moreover, just who sets this “one standard fits all” government curriculum? Primarily the education labor unions — or their selected/elected sycophants, that’s who. Yeah, THAT’S sure working out well!

    You don’t need government to set such standards or curriculum. Indeed, the compelling case can be made that government is a TERRIBLE choice for setting standards — as they refuse to allow meaningful standards for their own union employees. I’d rather trust Consumers Report (liberal bastion though they be) than the judgment of a government agency.

    Private rating agencies exist for college certification and ranking. The same would be true in the private K-12 range if there were wider private education availability via vouchers or tax credits. The final decision is best left to the parents — not to the government that owes its primary allegiance to its employees rather than to the kids or their parents.

    And finally, you dredge up your smarmy current version of “KKK schools” and “witches’ schools” — evil Muslim schools. The underlying assumption is that we should not financially allow parents to choose private schools if ANY of the schools are so heretical.

    It doesn’t matter to you that there are a tiny number of such schools among the thousands of private schools across the nation. And it bothers you not a bit that our nation’s official public school curriculum is designed to instill student hatred against business people, religous folks, global warming skeptics, conservatives and libertarians — especially whites in these categories.

    It’s clear that, contrary to your assertion of objectivity, you are NOT arguing from an academic standpoint — you’re simply mouthing the standard NEA labor union’s play book arguments to block school choice. Indeed, it all becomes clear if we remove your “professor” appellation and just label you what you are — a government employee (couple) avidly supporting the government education monopoly.

    BTW, readers, this government couple (Marvin and spouse) sent THEIR kids mostly to private schools. I’d LOVE to see the number of D.C. teachers who live in the district who sent their kids to D.C. public schools. Like the D.C. politicians, it’s likely that most choose private schools — even though as teachers they can work the D.C. public school selection process better than anyone.


    David, OF COURSE there are fixed education costs — for public AND PRIVATE schools. Are you asserting that vouchers pay ONLY variable costs?

    It IS true that D.C. is perhaps the most egregious example of costly, failed government schools vs. private alternatives. But it is not alone. Los Angeles Unified total per student cost for FY 2007-08 was $29,780, and the district has a dropout rate of almost 60%.

    Other metropolises have RELATIVELY lower per pupil costs, but a widespread voucher system would save AT LEAST 50% in even the most efficient public school system. And then there’s that quality of performance thingy to consider. And parental preference.

    BTW, the school DISTRICT per student cost understates the total taxpayer cost per student. Left out is the cost of archaic, redundant county boards of education found in most states, the state education bureaucracies and the HUGE federal education bureaucracy. And probably every public school district in America has unfunded pension and retiree health care costs not properly accounted for in their doctored school budgets.

    I encourage everyone to read below today’s WSJ commentary — “If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools”


    Wall Street Journal
    May 5, 2011

    If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools
    What if groceries were paid for by taxes, and you were assigned a store based on where you live?

    By Donald J. Boudreaux

    Teachers unions and their political allies argue that market forces can’t supply quality education. According to them, only our existing system—politicized and monopolistic—will do the trick. Yet Americans would find that approach ludicrous if applied to other vital goods or services.

    Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—”for free”—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

    No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

    Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families’ choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.

    Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.

    How could it be otherwise? Public supermarkets would have captive customers and revenues supplied not by customers but by the government. Of course they wouldn’t organize themselves efficiently to meet customers’ demands.

    Responding to these failures, thoughtful souls would call for “supermarket choice” fueled by vouchers or tax credits. Those calls would be vigorously opposed by public-supermarket administrators and workers.

    Opponents of supermarket choice would accuse its proponents of demonizing supermarket workers (who, after all, have no control over their customers’ poor eating habits at home). Advocates of choice would also be accused of trying to deny ordinary families the food needed for survival. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain precious resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance testifies to their overwhelming need for more public funds.

    As for the handful of radicals who call for total separation of supermarket and state—well, they would be criticized by almost everyone as antisocial devils indifferent to the starvation that would haunt the land if the provision of groceries were governed exclusively by private market forces.

    In the face of calls for supermarket choice, supermarket-workers unions would use their significant resources for lobbying—in favor of public-supermarkets’ monopoly power and against any suggestion that market forces are appropriate for delivering something as essential as groceries. Some indignant public-supermarket defenders would even rail against the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as “customers,” on the grounds that the relationship between the public servants who supply life-giving groceries and the citizens who need those groceries is not so crass as to be discussed in terms of commerce.

    Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.

    In reality, of course, groceries and many other staples of daily life are distributed with extraordinary effectiveness by competitive markets responding to consumer choice. The same could be true of education—the unions’ self-serving protestations notwithstanding.

    Mr. Boudreaux is professor of economics at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center.

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