To the Editor:
Milton Friedman’s Sept. 14, 2005, letter slamming Edd Doerr’s earlier letter on school vouchers (“Friedman Rebuts Claims Made in Voucher Letter,”Letter, Sept. 14, 2005) shows that the noted economist is out of touch with reality.
Vouchers would raise schooling costs. Religious schools, with 90 percent of the nonpublic enrollment, operate more cheaply because they do not have to serve kids with special needs. Further, really good private schools are so expensive ($14,000-plus in tuition per year) that a voucher worth about half the money spent in public schools would not get voucher students in the door, even if they could get through the schools’ admissions systems. Mr. Friedman’s “school choice” dream also would require a vast expansion of tax-paid transportation. Where will the money come from?
Vouchers also would “damage the teaching profession by imposing religious tests on teachers,” as Mr. Doerr argues. Every study of faith-based schools, which make up 90 percent of nonpublic schools, shows that the vast majority are pervasively sectarian. A fundamentalist school is unlikely to hire a Jewish or Catholic teacher, who wouldn’t want to apply to teach there anyway. The same would be true for other faith-based schools.
Vouchers clearly would divide children along sectarian, class, ethnic, and ideological lines, for financial reasons and because of the religious indoctrination prevalent in faith-based schools. Catholic kids won’t be sent to fundamentalist or Muslim or Jewish schools.
Of course our public schools have problems. That is because we as a people are too cheap to provide sufficient resources to repair or replace outworn school buildings and offer prekindergarten programs, especially for poor kids, and we don’t distribute funding equitably among urban, suburban, and rural schools.
Mr. Friedman may know a lot about economics, but he knows precious little about education in the real world.
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week as Reader to Friedman: Stick to Economics