If the Money Belongs to the Student...

03/29/2015 11:59 am ET | Updated May 29, 2015
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One of the foundational assertions of the charter movement is that public school tax dollars, once collected, should be attached to the child, maybe in a backpack, or perhaps surgically. "This public money... belongs to the student, not the failing school," wrote a commenter on one of my HuffPost pieces. And I've heard variations on that over and over from charter advocates.

The money belongs to the student.

I've resisted this notion for a long time. The money, I liked to say, belongs to the taxpayers, who have used it to create a school system that serves the entire community by filling that community with well-educated adults who make better employees, customers, voters, neighbors, parents and citizens. But hey-- maybe I've been wrong. Maybe that money, once collected, really does belong to the student. In which case, let's really do this.

Let's let the student spend his voucher money (and let's stop pussyfooting around this -- when we talk about the money following the students, we're talking about vouchers) on the education of his dreams.

Does she want to go to the shiny new charter school? Let her go (as long as they'll take her, of course). But why stop there? Travel has long been considered a broadening experience -- what if she wants to take the voucher and spend it on a world cruise? Why not? It's her money. Perhaps she wants to become a champion basketball player -- would her time not be well spent hiring a coach and shooting hoops all day? Maybe she would like to develop her skills playing PS4 games, pursuant to a career in video-game tournaments. That's educational. In fact, as I recall the misspent youth of many of my cohort, I seem to recall that many found smoking weed and contemplating the universe to be highly educational. I bet a voucher would buy a lot of weed.

What's that, charter advocate? Do I hear you saying that's an unfair comparison, that obviously a high quality charter school is way different from smoking a lot of weed? I agree, but that's beside the point.

The money belongs to the student.

You didn't say that the money was the student's to be used on educational experiences that met with the approval of some overseeing government body. You didn't say that the money was the student's on the condition that the student got somebody's permission to use it first. You didn't say that we'd need to put strings on how the money is spent because students and their parents might not always make responsible choices.

You said the money belongs to the student.

Heck, let's really go all in. Why use the odd fiction of a voucher at all -- let's just collect taxes and cut every single student an annual check for $10,000 (or whatever the going rate is in your neighborhood). Let's just hand them the money that we're asserting belongs to them, and let them spend it as they wish. Maybe they'd like a nice couch, or a new iPad, or a sweet skateboard, or a giant voucher party, or food and clothing for themselves and their family.

Unless, of course, you'd like to suggest that the taxpayers who handed over that money and the community that collected it have an interest in making sure that it's spent well and responsibly in a way that serves the community's greater good. In which case we can go back to discussing how those needs of the stakeholders -- ALL the stakeholders -- are best served by an all-inclusive community-based taxpayer-controlled educational system, and stop saying silly things like, "The money belongs to the student."

Originally posted at Curmudgucation

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