Heresy: why I support school vouchers

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sun Aug 1 22:05:44 MDT 1999


I do not AT ALL support the specific voucher plans being put forward by
varied and sundry right wingers. The speeches about "school choice" and
empowering parents sound nice, but when you look at the details, you see the
real aim is quite different.

However, the Black community's majority support for vouchers is just a new
form of the struggle by this vanguard of American working people for the
right to an education, and an equal education. It contains elements of three
previous aspects of this struggle, a) desegregation b) parent/community
control and c) adequate funding.

Socialists or "the Left" need to understand Black and Hispanic supports for
"vouchers." We should identify the progressive reasons why the general
"voucher idea" elicits strong support, and come up with "our own" voucher
proposals that highlight and give fullest expression to this progressive
content, and at the same time frustrate the reactionary schemes behind the
bourgeois voucher proposals.

I believe the proposal that does this is 100% vouchers for 100% of the
children. In other words, all money for the education of all children would
be provided by the state. There is a certain amount of fine print that would
accompany this. For example, schools have to accept vouchers as full
payment, the admission system has to be fair and non-discriminatory given
the nature of the given school, that costs associated with strictly
religious instruction cannot be met from voucher funds and will have to be
raised privately by the school/denomination involved, that special
provisions and funding will be necessary for children with special needs,

One objection will be that the state will be subsidizing the education of
super-rich kids. But this is already the case. Bill Gates can send his child
to the local public school if he wants to. Under the socialist proposal, he
would likewise be able to send the child to any "voucher" school using the
voucher. He would not, however, be able to use the voucher to cover a
partial payment to elite bourgeois academies that charge three times as much
as good local private schools.

The slippery slope schema you raise, when you think about it, necessarily
implies that the bourgeoisie has now come to the conclusion, or will do so
shortly, that the level of education of the U.S. working class is excessive
and a waste of money. If that is the case, we will face a fight on funding,
whether the funding be for vouchers or for traditional school districts. I
think all evidence points to the bourgeoisie being genuinely concerned that,
if anything, the mean educational level may be inadequate going forward. The
problem they have is that the level of repression they need kids to
internalize, especially among those likely to become the most oppressed
layers of the working class, is not conducive to or compatible with
imparting a "good" education, even by bourgeois standards.

The voucher proposals by capitalist politicians seek to facilitate a higher
level of education for a minority of those up until now subjected to these
inner city pre-prison institutions, both with an eye to the needs of the
labor force of the future, as well as to guarantee the continuance of
typical inner city education for the majority of inner city kinds by buying
off the minority of families that complain, or at least giving them a hope
of escape.

Coming from the Black community, the demand for vouchers represents
something completely different.

It is, first and foremost, a continuation to the struggle for desegregation,
for the right of poor Black kids to go to the same fine schools rich white
kids go to. And giving American demographics, breaking  the link between
where you live and what school district/individual school are imposed on you
is the only possible way for desegregation to advance. Taking the money
destined for the education of an individual child an "assigning" it to that
child rather than a pre-existing state education monopoly in his or her area
seems a logical way to do it.

Second, it is a continuation of the drive for "community control" or "parent
control" of education. It is aimed against what comes across to parents as
the state's one-size-fits-all school system, although in reality as I have
pointed out the state operates different KINDS of systems depending on the
student population. ALL of them, of course, are bourgeois educations and
contain elements of regimentation, subjugation and so on, but the central
aim of the typical inner city school is to crush the spirit, imagination of
and natural rebelliousness of these kids. It is a qualitatively different
approach than those of suburban schools, by and large.

The essential problem of ghetto schools is, simply, what they're trying to
do, HOW they educate children. Thus they cannot be countered with "more"
resources or "better trained" teachers, lower student-teacher ratios or all
these other liberal nostrums. But to the degree there is underfunding --but
most especially, to the degree the bourgeoisie has ALREADY succeeded in
"privatizing" the cost of educating children of relatively privileged and
often extremely self-sacrificing families-- the demand for vouchers that
cover the full cost of an education at the top tier of private schools in a
given area is a step forward for the struggle by working people that society
as a whole assume the cost of educating future generations. And it does so
without giving the executive committee of the enemy class --the state-- an
absolute, direct monopoly over the education of working class children.

A final positive side to vouchers is that it will allow individuals,
associations or communities so inclined to develop their own schools. In
Atlanta, for example, it is already true that a whole series of private
schools are run by left-leaning people, including several founded in the
late 60s and early 70s as "counter cultural" institutions. There are,
similarly, a whole number of schools that seek to produce little Newt
Gingriches. But schools will spring up, for example, to cater to Hispanic
parents convinced that what's in the best interest of their children is
rapid immersion into English rather than "bilingual education," and vice
versa, rather than making these sorts of issues a source of endless
manipulation by bourgeois politicians of all stripes seeking to divide the
working class.  Some may seek to reproduce here the "American School"
phenomenon from abroad, i.e., seek to impart a fully bilingual, bicultural
education vis a vis Mexico, Chile or whatever. There would undoubtedly be
thousands of schools incorporating black pride, black nationalism, as
central themes, and so on.

While, of course, none of this in any way guarantees a socialist revolution,
the more cultured and educated the working class as a whole is, the more
quickly it will rebel against wage slavery and the easier it will be to
organize society on a new basis.


-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Perelman <michael at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Saturday, July 31, 1999 11:18 PM
Subject: Re: Heresy: why I support school vouchers

>Vouchers are a slippery slope.  First you will get means testing, then
>becomes a form of welfare, then you cut it to keep the poor from being
>dependent.  Fight for a better public sphere rather than handing it over to
>Edison project.
>Michael Perelman
>Economics Department
>California State University
>Chico, CA 95929
>Tel. 530-898-5321
>E-Mail michael at

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