Kilroy Was Here
December 23, 2002
School Vouchers and Improving Neigborhoods
In the Atlantic Monthly, there is a very good article on how school vouchers can improve the value of neighborhoods. (
Reversing White Flight
by Johnathon Rusch )

From the article:
"Vouchers are possibly the best desegregation and urban-renewal program that the United States has hardly ever tried—or so research by Thomas J. Nechyba suggests....

Nechyba made two interesting moves. First, he chose to assume, as opponents of vouchers maintain, that vouchers would not improve public schools. Second, he took note of an important fact that education analysts often overlook when considering vouchers: most people choose their schools by buying their homes. Being located in a good school district can easily add 25 percent or more to the price of a house, as real-estate agents are well aware. ("It's worth it—the schools are great.")

Introducing vouchers, Nechyba found, had a striking positive effect—not on poor public schools (remember, he assumed they would not improve) but on poor neighborhoods. "We're talking about large effects," he told me. "We're talking about average incomes in poor districts rising 20 or 30 percent, and housing prices going up comparably. We're talking about the tax base going up dramatically."

Why? Nechyba explains that quite a few parents stretch their budgets to live in communities with good public schools. Make vouchers available, and many of these parents will find that they can get more house for less money—and maybe a better education for their kids to boot—by moving into an undesirable public-school district and sending their children to a private school. In fact, he told me, "What we see in the model is that the people who tend to take up the vouchers include some people who already live in bad districts and simply can't afford to live anywhere else—but more are people who live in districts with good public schools, who decide instead to live in districts with bad public schools and send their kids to private schools." "

In general, I am skeptical about school vouchers for the following reasons.

First of all, profit motive, by it's very nature, must remove some resources away from the market and towards shareholders, etc.

Secondly, the market (like evolution), tends to drive differences of quality in the market based upon what people are willing to pay. For the public good of democracy, it may be more important that all schools are equal rather than some schools operating having very high quality.

Since one of the more powerful ideas of our democracy is the idea of the social or class ladder. Yes, this idea state, we do have different strata in our society. But these strata are accessible to anyone with the talent who is willing to put in the effort. Work hard, young Horatio, and you too can climb up that social ladder.

The rungs of this social ladder are built with our educational system. If a market based system damages that social ladder, then the democracy as a whole will suffer.

However, the article in the Atlantic is forcing me to re-examine my position.

Kilroy Was Here
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