Travis Roach: ‘We get what we pay for.’ School voucher plans benefit select few at expense of all others
Travis Roach is associate professor and chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Central Oklahoma. In a guest edito9rial for The Oklahoman, he explains why the state’s voucher plan would not save taxpayers money.
School vouchers have been a controversial topic for decades. Proponents argue that vouchers provide families with a choice in education and help to level the playing field for underprivileged children. However, and especially when it comes to rural school systems, vouchers can cause more harm than good.
One major issue with vouchers is that there are often a limited number of private or charter schools available nearby. This can result in families having to travel long distances or pay for transportation to access the “choice” that vouchers provide. The cost of transportation, coupled with the cost of tuition, can make private or charter schools unaffordable for many families and yields benefits to only those that can pay. Those that can’t pay are left with a public school that is in a worse financial position than before because of syphoned resources.
The economics behind this is the concept of economies of scale. Let’s suppose there are 100 kids that would normally attend a single elementary school. Let’s now also assume that some portion of these students leave the public school for a private or charter school. With school vouchers, the outcome is that the money that was once allocated to this school has effectively been split into three. That’s now three different cafeterias, three different playgrounds, three different sets of first- through fifth-grade teachers that you need to support with the same budget. You’ve tripled the cost without changing how many students are served.
Or put differently, by adding a voucher system, you’ve tripled the per-pupil cost of teaching a single student that remains in the public school. By operating a single school, you can service more students with one expense. In business we call this spreading out your overhead. Vouchers exacerbate existing problems and already-too-low funding by redirecting crucial dollars away from public schools and toward private schools.