To the Editor,

RE: School Vouchers: A Win/Win Solution

We recently had some bodywork done on our pick-up. I have wondered what it would have been like if the body shop business had been run like the public schools? First of all we would have to take our truck to the local body shop. Interestingly enough, that had been our first choice. But now it was our only choice. One of the things that might seem appealing about this body shop was that we didn't have to pay. This sounded pretty good to us. After all, everyone benefits when vehicles are in good working order and are well-cared for but we should have asked a few more questions about cost. We might have found out that the price was high because there were ten managers who had all been hired to tell one body man how to paint the truck. Maybe there were gallons of expensive paint being bought, but never being used. Maybe too much money was being spent on fancy detailing that looked good on the surface but didn't contribute to the overall quality of the work. In short, we might have found out that there was no accountability.

We told the body man we wanted the back fenders replaced and the truck painted red. No problem; he'd be able to do that. Since we wanted to prevent the fenders from rusting out again, we wanted a special rust-proof undercoating applied also. "Wait just a minute. We don't do undercoating. We have so many vehicles here that are in need of repair, we just don't have time to do undercoating."

That wouldn't do. This was something that was very important to us. We would take our truck someplace else to have the work done. That was our choice. At least it was our choice not to use the local Body Shop and even our choice to take our truck elsewhere. However, money to have our truck painted would still go to the local Body Shop. No one could quite explain this to our satisfaction.

We decided to keep the pick-up home for a while, and have the necessary body work done later, Now we found out something very interesting. We couldn't keep our own truck at home. We had had it long enough, and now we were required by law to send it to the local body shop, This didn't seem right. Despite the cost involved we decided that, rather than keep our vehicle home at this time, we would take the truck elsewhere.

We still had to pay the local body shop for work that was NOT being done on our truck. And we paid another body shop to have the work actually done. Come to find out, there were quite a few other body shops around. Work was done there that would have been very satisfactory. But not many truck-owners could afford to pay two body shops. Having so much money to work with that the other body shops found it almost impossible to compete, the local Body Shop operated like a monopoly free to set its prices at will.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? What can be done so that everyone wins? The solution is simple. The customer makes the decision based on the work he wants done at the price he is willing to pay. Is that unfair to the local Body Shop? Absolutely not. If the local shop meets the needs of the customers, it stays in business. If another body shop better meets those needs, that shop also stays. When the customer is free to spend his money where he chooses, everyone wins. Each shop tries harder to give quality service. Each shop improves, and more importantly, every vehicle is serviced more efficiently. Everyone wins.

Everyone stands to win when school vouchers are in affect. We need to remember that we all have, or should have the same goals when it comes to educating our children. Although test scores are not an accurate or exclusive determinant of a good education, they do give us some indication of the success of the school in certain areas. The purpose of vouchers is not to eliminate public schools, but rather to improve them. Any school should be able to attract students on the basis of what that school has to offer that the students and the parents want, not because of compulsory attendance. Would you think it reasonable that you were forced to have your vehicle painted at the local Body Shop even if they didn't do the work that you requested? Would you pay that shop anyway, and take your car to another shop and pay them, too? This sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But that is exactly what is happening to our children.

We have to send them to the school in the district where we reside. Or if we decide to send them to another district or keep them home and teach them ourselves, we still have to pay our tax monies to the school they are not attending.

We don't seem to have the right to say what our children are being taught. We can go to the schools and see that maybe there are things going on there that we don't want our children to be a part of, that maybe there are good people who are not good teachers, that maybe there are good teachers who are not good people, that maybe there are many administrators and principals and directors and counselors and not enough teachers. On the other hand, maybe there are good people who are good teachers and good teachers who are good people. Maybe all the administrators and principals and counselors are really needed, and maybe everything is just as It should be in that school. But maybe we decide to send our children to another school anyway. We still pay for the school they don't attend.

Now what does that do for the public school? Well, it means that no matter what the quality of the education is there, the money still comes in. Test scores can go down, crime rate can go up. The school still goes on. Why? Because performance is not linked to the money it costs to run the operation. Parents and other community members continue to pay for that school and its activities, academic and non-academic alike. Parents continue to send their children to that school because the bus comes by their houses in the mornings to take their children to school and again in the afternoons to bring their children home from school and sometimes late at night and on week-ends to take their children to and from extra-curricular activities. We are so conditioned that we don't realize that we are all paying for that bus. We are all paying for what is being taught or not taught at the school. We are paying for excellence or mediocrity or sub-standard out-puts. There's little we can do to change things there. We can make only minor, short-term improvements.

The way to keep good students in a certain school is to make the school better. The way to make the school better is to give the students a choice of whether or not to attend. Once the choice is given, if the school wants that student and his money, then the school must conform to the standards of that student and his parents. And why not? If the local body shop wants our business, they'll have to meet our demands. That's not unreasonable. That's a sound business principle. That is only logical. It's not so much a question of public school versus private school or home school. It's a question of common sense. Who in their right mind would object to better education for all of our children? Who is it that is saying we have a right to this job whether we do what our customer wants or not? Who in any other line of work would dare say that we have to patronize their business even if it's not what we want?

We as parents of school age children are reasonable people as are the other citizens of our community. Have we been duped? Who stands to win when taxpayers are forced to pay for schools that have no competition to improve? If someone's loyalty and choice are with the public school in their district, so be it. What is to be lost by expecting that school to compete for students? What harm can come by allowing that school to be the best it can be? What could possibility be given up when students in that district are allowed to take their tax dollars with them to the school of their choice? Can we reasonable, intelligent people be trusted to make important decisions that concern our most important resource? Isn't choice in this matter the smart answer. Isn't it logical? And more importantly, isn't it right?

Terry Christensen
Private School Teacher
Fairfield, Montana

Contents | Home