Monday, 26 May 2008

Debate on education vouchers, and why I'm against

Since there's a debate tonight in Wellington on implementing education vouchers -- Roger Kerr, Heather Roy and Stephen Whittington arguing for vouchers, John Minto, Arthur Graves and Labour's Grant Robertson arguing against, details of the debate at Kiwiblog -- I figured it a good time to post educational historian Andrew Coulson's reasons for opposing education vouchers, with which I wholly agree -- though I doubt that Minto and Robertson would:

Q: In your view, what is the most promising proposal for reform in education policy?
The best realistic policy we've developed is a combination of personal use tax credits and scholarship donation tax credits. Basically, if you pay for the education of your own or someone else's children, we cut your taxes. Cato published model legislation along these lines last December and we'll soon be releasing a tool that estimates its fiscal impact. In all five states we've looked at so far, this proposal would generate substantial savings.
Q:Why are tax credits superior to vouchers?
The key benefit of tax credits is that they reduce compulsion. Under vouchers, everyone has to fund every kind of school; that produces battles over what kinds of schools should get vouchers--for instance over the voucher funding of conversative Islamic schools in the Netherlands. With tax credits, people are either spending their own money on their own children, or they are choosing the scholarship organization that gets their donation. No one has to pay for education they find objectionable. [Emphasis mine.]

Feel free to make Coulson's point tonight to both debatees.  And read more about his views here:  'Toward Market Education: Are Vouchers or Tax Credits the Better Path?'


  1. Right. This is a very important point.

    Vouchers are just another form of socialism - and socialism that supports religious fundamentalism (and we know where that ends up).

    I can't believe ACT is arguing for vouchers, when there is one even simpler solution.

    No vouchers. No scholarships. No tax credits. No compulsory education.

  2. Yes, anonymous, demand 100% perfection NOW. No messy compromises, no intermediate steps, no gradual evolution to your desired goal. The unyielding, dogmatic, purist approach wins every time.

  3. richard mcgrath27 May 2008, 07:49:00

    Iseered: an education system based on voluntary perticipation and freedom of choice isn't "perfection" as you put it - there is no such thing as Utopia - but from a moral standpoint it is infinitely better than what we have now. The problem is, your "intermediate steps" and "gradual evolution" might last 150 years. Libertarianz would do it in five years.

  4. I kind of agree with Iseered on this one. Few great changes in history have happened over night. Compromise of values is justified if the compromise does not leave anyone ethicaly worse off, and if the compromiser insures that in the near futute there is no compromise.

    Another problem is that the average voter is extremely stupid. It would be smarter for the party to lure them in first, with less than radical proposals (tax credits, vouchers) and then declare dates for the end of socialised education.

    Lest I be dubbed a "compromiser", or a "pinko" I would like to say that I will support nothing less than a government which's final goal is complete liberalisation of it's citizens. But all good things take time.

  5. "Few great changes in history have happened over night."

    Bullshit excuse!

    Have some balls and stand up for your principles you soft cowards!


  6. So are you in favour of tax credits PC? People would still be forced to fund education (even the childless).

    The Libertarianz would surely argue for NO collection of taxation to fund education. And those children whose parents have no means, for whatever reason, will have to rely on charity.

    You are not going to get more than a handful of people today to vote for that policy.

    Those of us supporting vouchers (or tax credits) want change now even if that change is only less socialism.

  7. Vouchers for school has nothing to do with socialism. The vouchers idea was from ACT and it proves they are idiots. Socialism is against religion in any form. You pay your tax to help educate NZ children. Despite what morons say, the NZ education system is well regarded overseas and we get lots of Asians (not immigrants) kids to NZ schools and pay thousands of dollars per year for the priviledge.

  8. "Vouchers for schools has nothing to do with socialism".

    Cock! Who do you think's funding the vouchers? The taxpayer. Anytime the taxpayer pays for anything, you're talking socialism: the redistribution of wealth.

    "Socialism is against religion in any form".

    More cock. Some of the biggest socialists in this country are the mainstream churches. Like all idiot socialists, they're happy to bleat about caring for others, etc - as long as somebody else pays for it.

    "You pay your tax to educate NZ's children".

    Cock 1: I don't "pay" tax. A large portion of *my* money is taken from me before I've even had the luxury of sniffing it.

    Cock 2: "Educate"? With more kids than ever before leaving school functionally illiterate? Some 40% of a recent poll didn't even know we were in election year.

    Cock 3: "NZ children"? Sounds like something Cindy Kiro would say. NZ per se doesn't have children; individual parents do.

    And lastly, Asian students enrol here because it's a cheaper option for them - and good on them. The more, the merrier. No xenophobia here. That they succeed is because they choose to. They're not paying for any "priviledge" (sic); they're paying for a bloody service!

    Funny how you tend to take something seriously when you pay for it yourself ...

  9. Vouchers/Scholarships are bollocks - a form of price-fixing for the education system, but they represent an improvement on the soviet education we have now. So I support the policy, at least in the interim.

  10. I think that it is all a bit of a red herring to say that tax credits removes compulsion. Basically it is just stealing more from people who contribute to private education. You arent forcing people to pay for an education system that they disapprove of but your are making them pay more tax than people who do.

  11. Lindsay, you ask, "So are you in favour of tax credits PC?"

    As a transitional measure, yes I am.

    Unlike the case with vouchers, which Coulson thoroughly explains represent new coercion, tax credits require no NEW coercion, and move us inexorably towards greater freedom in education.

    Those who maintain that the introduction of vouchers frees up education (and who haven't bothered to read Coulson's arguments) might like to think about what vouchers did in the case of Te Wananga O Aotearoa (which is essentially what we have in tertiary education -- vouchers assuming an NZQA), and how 'virtual vouchers helped transform in just a few short years a relatively free and flourishing early childhood education sector into the state-regulated morass it is now.

    The fact is that any voucher system is nothing more than changing the nature of the handout slightly -- but no matter how you try to spin it, a voucher for education is still a handout.

    What we really should be worrying about is how to wean New Zealanders away from the welfare cradle-to-grave expectations many have of the government, not demonstrating a more 'efficient' form of handout.

    The difference between tax credits and vouchers is the difference between tax cuts and Welfare for Working Families.

    The fact is that weaning young NZers off their cradle-to-grave welfare expectations is far more important than the details of a new handout.

    Think about it.

  12. sorry I meant: Basically it is just stealing more from people who don't contribute to private education.

    this can still include private eductation such as that which promotes religious fundamentalism, giving these people a tax break, relative to everyone else.

    Tax credit idea would be ok If you use the money you would use for public education to fund them, else the other tax payers would have to fund these tax credits.

    Also I disagree with your "no new coersion idea" sure thats preferable, but there is no need to sneeze at one step back two steps forward.(I would only advocate this when it is measurable i.e. by money)

    I dont much like you analogy with working for families. you could really consider working for families tax credits for having kids(and lowish income). only a few families would get back all of what they pay in tax.

    Is that all that much different from tax credits for sending kids to school?

    Having said that I don't think your Idea is too bad, its definitely better that having the state school dominated system we have now.

    Another point is that vouchers don't get rid of coercion as far as tax is concerned but it gets rid of the monopoly that the state has on teaching methods, curriculum and teaching socialist values etc.

  13. PC, I better understand the tax credit policy now and can see it has merits. But it would still be a very difficult political sell at this point due to the 'scholarship' component funded by business and individuals unconnected to the child. The US has a stronger history of non-govt activity.
    Also the confusion caused by the term 'tax credits' would complicate matters. NZ uses tax credit to describe hand-outs to non-tax paying families. If you are going to promote this policy perhaps you need to use the term tax exemption or rebate? Tax credits are now part of the welfare terminology unfortunately.

  14. Thanks for your response, Lindsay, and you make a fair point -- but the main point I think is to begin the process of extricating govt from education, something vouchers just won't do.

    PS: I was amused to see you say "the confusion caused by the term 'tax credits' would complicate matters. NZ uses [the term] 'tax credit to describe hand-outs to non-tax paying families." I was amused, because the ACT Party is using the term 'scholarship' to describe a handout to every family. ;^)

  15. Not a term I have used anywhere:-)

  16. I agree that there is a concern that the effect of state funding on private schools will be to increase the regulations governing such institutions.

    In regards to Blair's point, it is not necessarily price fixing. In fact, in the debate, both Roger Kerr and I defended the ability of schools to charge top-up fees as they saw fit.

    Supporters of vouchers will be pleased to know that we won the debate by a show of hands from the audience, despite the number of Young Labour members.

    Grant Robertson has his speech on youtube - unfortunately it misses out the bit where he attacks the exclusive brethren - probably because it did not go down well.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.