School vouchers: unnecessary, not conservative and unfair

"Life is unfair." --President Jimmy Carter, 1978

That quote--and his somehow managing to get Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin in the same room at the same time--are the only two things of note from Carter, who was probably the most decent and also the most overmatched man ever to sit in the Oval Office.

The Egypt-Israel link is still shaky, but the one thing we know for certain is that life is unfair. Some of us are born into poverty, others into fabulous wealth. Some look like Paris Hilton; others are given brains. Some people who call themselves conservatives understand the concepts of fiscal restraint and governmental responsibility; others talk a whole lot o' mess but end up being just another bunch of bums who want the government to give them money for something they neither need nor deserve.

Thus it is that the Arizona Legislature, Republican in name only and fired up by the welfare-for-the-rich tone of the Bush administration, has trotted out school vouchers yet again.

This is a program that has been rejected by most states and has failed miserably in the handful of states that have tried it. So naturally it seems like a great idea to the dolts that run the show in these parts.

Here's the way government works: Everybody pays money into the government, and then the government pays money out for certain programs. Henry Clay once described it as a system where there are tax (revenue) generators and tax (revenue) consumers, adding that it's always better to be among the latter. Many of these programs don't benefit the average citizen directly, but are still important. We pay for police and fire protection and yet are happy when we end up not needing it. We pay for national defense and are most pleased when the money goes into merely training troops for eventualities. And we pay for schools because an educated society benefits us all.

Schools are actually one of the places where the average citizen can see his tax dollars at work. And while we all pay for schools, only those among us who have kids in school actually see an immediate return on our taxes. Ten of us pay taxes into the system, and only a couple of us consume. However, under the voucher system, that's not enough. The voucher vultures still want the eight of us who don't have school-age children to keep paying in (and actually pay more that we already are), while the two who are consuming the taxes will end up having a net-zero tax bite and will weaken the public-school system in the process. So, in this upside-down world of neo-con politics, the only people who benefit directly from this tax are those who pay no tax at all. Jimmy Carter wouldn't be the only one to find that a bit unfair.

Voucher proponents claim that it's all part of a plan to allow people to have a choice as to which school(s) their kids attend. But parents already have a choice. State law allows parents to enroll their kids in any public school in the state. You say you don't have the time and/or money to transport them across town every day? Life's unfair.

You live near Pueblo and you want your kid to go to Sabino? Drive him there; it's legal. Can't drive there? Move closer to Sabino. Can't afford to move closer to Sabino? Make the most of Pueblo. You've got lots of choices.

(That's the thing that drives me the absolute battiest. People complain that their kids can't get a good enough education at X, Y or Z public school. I guarantee you that my kids could have gone to any public school in Tucson, and they would have received an excellent education because I would have seen to it that they did. And I would have seen to it because I'm their dad, and it's my responsibility.)

(Furthermore, both of my parents were immigrants, and their granddaughter, who attended nothing but public schools, is attending an Ivy League school. And it could have happened a generation earlier. I went to ghetto-ass schools and was accepted into Harvard. I ended up not going and taking a basketball scholarship to a lesser institution instead. While I may have touted my own intellect in the past, I have never once laid claim to common sense.)

But people don't want to hear that. They want something for nothing and instant gratification. And these are the Republicans who don't even take the time any more to preach personal responsibility. The voucher pigs claim that their main thrust is to give people the choice of sending their kids to private schools. People already have the choice of sending their kids to private schools! They just have to pay for it. Don't have enough money? Get a better job. Can't do that? Get an extra job. Still not good enough? Make do with what you have. Life is unfair, and vouchers would only make it more so.

Next week: The unintended consequences of a voucher system.

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