The political economy of vouchers and churches

by on February 13, 2017 at 9:44 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education, Religion | Permalink

A while ago I had some email with Noah Smith on this topic, now we are getting somewhere, this is from a new NBER working paper by Daniel M Hungerman, Kevin J. Rinz, and Jay Frymark:

We use a dataset of Catholic-parish finances from Milwaukee that includes information on both Catholic schools and the parishes that run them. We show that vouchers [funded by the government] are now a dominant source of funding for many churches; parishes in our sample running voucher-accepting schools get more revenue from vouchers than from worshipers. We also find that voucher expansion prevents church closures and mergers. Despite these results, we fail to find evidence that vouchers promote religious behavior: voucher expansion causes significant declines in church donations and church spending on non-educational religious purposes. The meteoric growth of vouchers appears to offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.

I’ve long maintained that the fiscal effects of vouchers, if they were implemented on a much larger scale, are the elephant in the room.  For better or worse.

1 Ray Lopez February 13, 2017 at 9:46 am

Not clear from a five second reading what TC’s point is: vouchers are bad, or good? I guess good since they don’t promote First Amendment non-separation of church and state? We need an executive summary for this post. First.

2 Tyler Cowen February 13, 2017 at 10:16 am

It’s not all about “good” or “bad” — first we need to ask better questions!

3 byomtov February 13, 2017 at 10:53 am


My first questions are:

1. Why is voucher money finding its way into the general church funds?
2. How can we stop that?

4 j_mct February 13, 2017 at 11:01 am

General church funds subsidize parochial schools, as in parishioners get to go at a reduced, below cost rate, while non parishioners generally pay cost. If there are vouchers, that subsidy isn’t necessary for the parishioners anymore.

5 Heorogar February 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm

I’m fairly certain that our NY parochial school runs operating deficits and am absolutely certain that the school cannot generate cash flows for capital improvements/projects or repairing/replacing such items as heating systems. In fact, in 2016 we raised $100,000 to renovate the gym/auditorium. The deficits are covered by parish general funds.

Also, in the past five years, our parish raised (pledged monies in addition to Sunday collections) $5 million for a massive church restoration. And, they now run a $200,000 annual surplus. During the unnecessarily prolonged great recession, there were deficits.

NY overwhelmingly went for Crooked Hillary. WI voted for President Donald J. Trump. In NY, the teachers unions’ lap dog politicians don’t allow taxpayer/voucher funding for private school competition with monopolistic public schools.

I’m not aware that my parish’s parochial school provides discounts to parishioners. In NYC, many non-Catholics send their children to parochial schools. Some NYC public schools are instruments of child torture. There may be discounts for parishioners while full-freight is paid by Hindus, Muslim, assorted other heathens, and protestant heretics.

6 Daniel Weber February 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

If a church ran a grocery store, should it be forbidden from accepting EBT?

7 mulp February 13, 2017 at 11:54 am

It would be required to operate by the same rules as the 7-11, Walmart, or dollar store, paying taxes, subject to all regulation like no discrimination in employment and paying minimum wages and overtime.

The only place flexibility is provided is with businesses providing the disadvantaged with work to give them entry into regular job markets, like businesses that hire and train the disabled and those with criminal records. Exceptions to labor laws and taxes must be closely tied to the public welfare charter of the organization: training and moving people into the regular workforce.

8 BC February 13, 2017 at 11:59 am

No. When people have the option to spend their vouchers or food stamps at non-religious entities, if they spend them at religious entities, there is no sense in which taxpayer dollars are going to support religious institutions. That would be like saying taxpayer dollars are being used to support religion whenever a government employee or Social Security recipient makes a donation to a church because they received those dollars from the government. When they, rather than the government, have discretion over where to spend those dollars, those dollars cease being taxpayer dollars. They have become the recipients’ dollars.

9 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Actually some smaller churches do in fact run businesses rather than try to pay their bills off of just donations. There’s a small chain of vegan outlets called “The Loving Hut” which is actually owned by a small Eastern orientated religious group. There’s a well known CA Zen group that operates a well known bakery.

There’s also nothing that would stop a private business owner using all his profits to support some religious or political cause. Or a church could invest in many mainstream businesses via a stock fund and use the dividends to pay their bills.

However the voucher concern I have here seems to be not that the church is running a business and making a profit but that the church is advocating vouchers to get the gov’t to subsidize their falling donations. EBT isn’t quite the same thing because almost no one who gets EBT isn’t also buying additional food with their own cash. The most anyone can get it seems is $194 per month (per…if your household size is larger you get more but the per person average works out to less than $194, the rest is more complicated but it seems they expect you to spend at least 30% of your own money on food so getting the max benefit is probably rare). While some people might manage to use EBT to buy 100% of their food, most will use it to supplement.

So the issue I have here is vouchers seem like they are being used to make Catholic schools ‘free’ while the reality is most other private schools will cost more than the voucher. This doesn’t really seem like competition to me but skimming the cheapest to teach students from the public schools and skimming from the taxpayer what parishioners don’t want to contribute themselves.

10 David Wright February 13, 2017 at 6:53 pm

The “vouchers are subsidizing churches by replacing donations” is a bit misleading without context. As anyone who has ever looked at private schools for their kids knows, most secular private schools are way more expensive than most religious private schools. One key reason for that differential is that many churches are subsidizing their associated schools using parishioner donations. If students come with voucher money, that reduces the subsidy that the church must provide, freeing up those donations for other church purposes. Someone who is vehemently anti-religious might not like that, but most would recognize that as a different phenomenon than using voucher dollars to directly fund the church

For example, a church school might cost $20K per student to run, and charge $10K tuition, with the other $10K funded from parishioner donations. If students now come with an $10K voucher, then the church might raise tuition to $15K, meaning each student’s family must now pay only $5K instead of the previous $10K, and parishioner donations need only fund $5K instead of the previous $10K per student.

Interestingly, the phenomenon here is almost exactly analogous to the situation with the government paying Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion services. No, that doesn’t directly fund abortions. But it does free up donations to Planned Parenthood to go toward abortions instead of the non-abortion services whose costs the donors would otherwise be covering. So I am sure that anyone in favor of government funding for Planned Parenthood will have no objections to vouchers going toward religious schools…

11 Boonton February 14, 2017 at 9:58 am

David Wright,

One thing I think being missed here is cost is not as simple as “10K per kid”. Cost is a combination of fixed costs, variable costs and stepwise costs. Imagine you have a building that can teach 500 students. Your costs could easily be $35K per kid or $5K per kid. Don’t see that, well…

Say you have 425 kids enrolled. Now here comes 426, how much does he cost? Probably nothing. You don’t need a bigger building since the one you have can fit 500. You’re not going to hire any extra staff just bcause you get one additional kid. Your utility bills aren’t going to go up. Aside from books and some materials, that kid probably has a marginal cost near $0. If you’re charging $5000 that’s nearly 100% additional profit for you. If you’re a for profit private school, maybe you charge $15K but make a big show of a ‘few scholarships’ being available. The rich parents pay $15K but once the school is almost filled up it will ‘give out’ the scholarships to fill the seats with parents paying a bit less. As long as all the parents do not start demanding to pay the ‘scholarship’ price the school will make more even if the ‘average cost’ per kid is $10K rather than $5K.

“Interestingly, the phenomenon here is almost exactly analogous to the situation with the government paying Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion services.”

How about the doctor who manages some old patients with heart disease and charges Medicare but then writes a check out to the Pro-Life action group? Seems to me that is directly fee for service and that’s the doctor’s take home pay. Saying he isn’t allowed to support a pro-life group would be saying he doesn’t get free speech…but his postman who works for the gov’t more than he does is allowed to spend his money as he pleases? It is analogous in one sense but IMO not really. It’s one thing for an enterprise to sell a service to the gov’t but another for the gov’t itself to create the enterprise, which mass vouchers would seem to do here.

I’d be comfortable limiting planned parenthood’s ‘funding’ (which really means providing services to Medicare/Medicaid patients) if it’s advocates were also comfortable with doctors being told they couldn’t use their pay to give to pro-life groups if they happen to have Medicare/Medicaid patients.

Art Deco

I’m not clear how that world prevent a problem. If the schools are a distinct corporation that doesn’t change the fact that someone has to own it. If someone owns a corporation they can pull profits from it. The church can likewise ‘rent’ a land or building they own to the ‘corporation’ thereby shifting funds into the Church, possibly to top off falling donations. They can throw people onto the corporation’s payroll thereby removing costs for pay and benefits from being paid for out of the church’s donation box.

12 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm

1. Why is voucher money finding its way into the general church funds? 2. How can we stop that?

1. By insisting that schools participating in voucher programs be a separate corporation from the diocesan corporation sole or parish corporation;

2. By insisting that schools participating have discrete physical plant that they own or rent from commercial vendors.

3. By maintaining regulations analogous to those which apply to philanthropies generally re the responsibilities of trustees as fiduciaries (re self dealing).

4. By insisting that clergy and religious employed by schools be seconded by their ordinary and not be on salary.

All of these are dont-screw-with-the-money regulations. They say nothing about curriculum or disciplinary practices. The meat of the schools autonomy is in the curriculum and disciplinary practices.

13 albatross February 13, 2017 at 4:57 pm


It’s important to make sure the vouchers don’t become an easy way to scam the government for cash, as has happened with student loans and some for-profit colleges and trade schools. I’m not sure about the exact list of rules Art Deco listed, but it’s clear that something like that list has to be there, or we will get scandals where someone is running their school to extract money from the taxpayers.

But a huge benefit of school choice is that the parents can get some choice of what kind of curriculum and school discipline and such is being used. Partly, that’s about agreeing with the parents’ values, but also partly it’s about matching the kids’ needs. Different kids need different things, and sometimes, your kid just isn’t doing well in one school, and it makes sense to make a change.

14 A Black Man February 13, 2017 at 11:17 am

Before you can ask better questions, you must first define “good” and “bad” and why your definitions should prevail in the analysis.

15 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 9:48 am

If voucher supporters are just people angry about double paying for schooling (tuition and taxes), is that so bad?

16 prior_test2 February 13, 2017 at 9:58 am

Depends on what one thinks of theocracy. The Catholic Church is all for it, by the way.

17 Mike W February 13, 2017 at 10:50 am

According to the NBER paper vouchers don’t promote religion.

18 prior_test2 February 13, 2017 at 11:07 am

Theocracy is not about religion, it is about power. A church with enough power does not need to be overly concerned about whether the money it controls supports anything but that church’s power. The history of the Catholic Church is quite instructive in this regard.

19 David Ptr February 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

The Church in the west was simply filling a void left by the collapse of the imperial administration.

That being said, a unified church and state in Great Britain hasn’t proven to be the end of civilization.

20 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm

The history of the Catholic Church is quite instructive in this regard.

No it isn’t. The Church was not a political power outside of central Italy and the German prince-bishoprics.

21 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm

The Catholic Church is all for it, by the way.

You’re very ignorant. The Church seeks no political territory nor any state offices. This last is almost universally true. John Paul II made it a disciplinary infraction for priests to run for public office.

22 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm

If I don’t want to use my local park and instead join a country club am I ‘double paying’?

23 Hazel Meade February 13, 2017 at 3:09 pm

If local park maintainace cost $10K per year per person who used it, you might be somewhat miffed about the fact that the grass is dry and full of dog poop and there are vagrrants sleeping on the benches. And you mgiht protest that by demanding a tax refund to be spent attending a country club instead.

24 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm

And those of us without kids? Are we not paying? Will we not be paying any school tax under idealized voucher system?

25 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm

People without children are dependent on the children of others to keep the world around them running.

26 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 4:21 pm

IMHO those without children should not be forced to pay for the schooling of other non-poor people’s children. Children are a great blessing to their parents those who get the blessing should pay the bills.

27 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Floccina, the world around you runs and continues to run because there are younger cohorts adding their labor to it. The younger cohorts include the aides and the orderlies taking care of you at the nursing home, which someone else sired and raised while you were traveling abroad and chowing down on foreign food.

28 Cooper February 13, 2017 at 7:32 pm

I’m with Art Deco on this one, society as a whole benefits from an educated population and we should tolerate some level of redistribution from childless adults to families.

If you abolished all public schools, a typical family of four with an income of $60,000/year would be spending something like a third of their take home pay on tuition for their local elementary school. That’s not going to be sustainable.

Assuming that parents could plan their families perfectly, fertility rates would plummet down to Hong Kong levels (1 kid per woman or less) and the economy would collapse.

Alternatively, parents would not be able to send their children to school at all and our average education level would plummet.

Abolishing all subsidies to families with children is a bad idea. In the long run, we all benefit from providing a basic level of education to all people.

29 St. Madesyn February 14, 2017 at 8:35 am

Art Deco argues that we should tax the child-free to subsidize the perpetrators of children, arguing “the world around you runs and continues to run because there are younger cohorts adding their labor to it”. AD fails to note that this labor would be of little use without capital: in the nursing-home example, those aides and orderlies wouldn’t accomplish much if someone hadn’t invested the money to build and equip the nursing home.

30 Boonton February 14, 2017 at 10:13 am

If this isn’t bullshit then why don’t you ask the states to simply provide a direct tax credit for money paid to private school tuition up to the cost of the average public school kid?

I mean from that POV if private schools really are cheaper then every kid who doesn’t go to public school saves the taxpayers money. Why don’t states do that esp. considering it would actually benefit teachers unions?

31 Floccina February 14, 2017 at 10:44 am

@Art Deco,
The blessing to the parents is huge, the blessing to society is very small. Do you by Elizabeth Warren’s idea that she has a claim on everything you own because you have used roads? Scale matters.

32 Boonton February 14, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Actually if the roads were owned by a private monopoly that idea would hold. “ohhh you need to get to your job, I purchased all the roads that go there. I’m setting a toll for 50% of your income. ”

Elizabeth Warren, I’m sure has never asserted anything near that. I’m sure if you asked her she would say we have debates over how many roads to build and how much to charge in income taxes versus other taxes versus borrowing to pay for them.

33 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm

If I don’t want to use my local park and instead join a country club am I ‘double paying’?

No, because these are not substitutes. Also, parkland is a public good and educational services are not. The extension of public agency into the realm of provision of educational services is defensible on distributional grounds. However, properly designed voucher programs can address complaints about distribution bar in circumstances where you have scattered populations requiring high-overhead schools. Since few of us live in Eastern Oregon, that’s not much of a justification for having nearly universal use of public agency to deliver educational services.

34 Boonton February 15, 2017 at 7:18 am

They are indeed substitutes. There are community golf courses, for example. The fact that one person wants to be a member of a country club simply indicates he is willing to spend more than those who make due with the course open to the public. One may or may not be better than the other.

Near universe use of a ‘public agency’ (for education) is not in itself telling you anything. People spend a lot more these days on their kids and have fewer of them. There’s nothing obvious to me that says people cannot use private schools more if they want too.

35 Steven Kopits February 14, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Vouchers imply means-testing.

If vouchers were available for all students, then private school students would suddenly see their tuition subsidized. Given that school budgets are mostly local, this would have the effect of blowing up municipal budgets. The resulting choices would then be 1) raising taxes to cover everyone’s tuition, 2) reducing per capita funding and spreading the existing budget over a larger number of students, or 3) going to means testing by which the total budget constraint is unchanged, but the spending is allocated by need. If you think about it realistically, you end up with means testing. This would be very helpful to low income families–they could send their kids to private schools. It would also be good for low cost schools, like parochial schools. It would hit affluent parents who send their kids to public school. We have a good number of those in Princeton.

36 albatross February 13, 2017 at 9:56 am

One second-order effect I’d worry about here: how easy will it be for a church whose main revenue source is vouchers from the state or federal government to take politically-unpopular stands on moral issues? Sure, you oppose gay marriage or torturing prisoners in principle, but are you sure you want to do so out loud, after the way that one state legislature cut off all voucher funding for that one church whose social positions were really offensive?

37 Cassiodorus February 13, 2017 at 10:22 am

I would assume that plays out roughly as it does now. The Catholic Church is opposed to both abortion and the death penalty, but only support for the former gets you denied communion…

38 TMC February 13, 2017 at 10:54 am

Because killing kids is just like killing murderers.

39 prior_test2 February 13, 2017 at 11:03 am

Well, something (possibly called God depending on one’s preferences) already kills 2/3 of all fertilized eggs – ‘Two-thirds of all human embryos fail to develop successfully. Now, in a new study, researchers have shown that they can predict with 93 percent certainty which fertilized eggs will make it to a critical developmental milestone and which will stall and die. The findings are important to the understanding of the fundamentals of human development at the earliest stages, which have largely remained a mystery despite the attention given to human embryonic stem cell research.’

People just aren’t in the same league when it comes to disregarding all those ‘children.’

However, in fairness to the Catholic Church, it also opposes the sort of research noted above, as the following describes practices the Catholic Church is opposed to – ‘Because the parameters measured by the researchers in this study occur before any embryonic genes are expressed, the results indicate that embryos are likely predestined for survival or death before even the first cell division. Assessing these parameters in the clinic could make it easier for in vitro fertilization specialists to select embryos for transfer for a successful pregnancy.’ See, if we hadn’t gone prying, we could still be arguing about the trivial percentage of embryos that are killed by people.

40 John February 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Because natural death is just like murder.

41 Turkey Vulture February 13, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Ultimately, God kills 100% of fertilized eggs. He just plays around with some of us first.

42 mulp February 13, 2017 at 12:01 pm

If I adopt 10 frozen embryos and pat for 100% of their cryogenic storage care, can I claim 10 dependent children on my 1040?

Will the Social Security administration issue SSNs for frozen embryos?

You would consider 10 frozen embryos to be children under the law, right?

What defines age? 9 months after conception? If I keep embryos frozen for 20 years, can I register them to vote, and then assist them voting absentee?

43 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:13 pm

These are good questions to ask Gorsuch.

44 Ron February 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Yes, you can claim them on your 1040. But maybe UBI payments would be a better idea.

Yes, Social Security will issue SSNs as long as they’re willing to stand in line for hours with proper documentation.

Yes, let them register to vote. Might be a step up in decision making. Whether you commit fraud and decide for them would be up to you.

45 A Black Man February 13, 2017 at 11:22 am

The Church opposes the death penalty with qualification. If society can defend itself without the taking a life, it is morally bound to do so. This is the libertarian argument against the death penalty as well. Society gets its right to self-defense from the individual right to self-defense. There are no condition in which killing babies is justified.

46 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm

I would assume that plays out roughly as it does now. The Catholic Church is opposed to both abortion and the death penalty,

No. Abortion is an inherently evil act. The Holy See has issued advisories contra the use of capital sentences, but these are judgments contingent on utility and it’s not a moral teaching imposed on the Church as a whole. While we’re at it, almost no one is authoritatively denied communion for any reason.

47 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 11:17 am


48 A Black Man February 13, 2017 at 11:24 am

This is easy to foresee. Colleges, including private colleges, have to abide by Federal education mandates if they or their students accept Federal money. in a voucher scheme, the state would apply the same rule, effectively making private schools into public schools. In short order, those who could afford to do so would abandon these schools and head off to new non-voucher schools.

School vouchers has always been a dumb idea.

49 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Actually, this depends on whether the current line of cases percolating through the courts regarding “religious liberty” would exempt them from these requirements.

So, what you might have is a system where public money is spent where there is no public control because there is a conflict between the mandate and the institutions religious values. Religious liberty trumps mandates under this regime.

50 A Black Man February 13, 2017 at 2:01 pm

The court found a “right” to sodomite marriage in the Constitution. Only fools put any faith in courts and judges. They do what they are told by the people in charge. If you wish to preserve your liberty, avoid any contact with the state.

51 Bill February 13, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Who cares about your sexual preferences anyway.

52 Hazel Meade February 14, 2017 at 4:34 pm

So, what you might have is a system where public money is spent where there is no public control

Would that be such a bad thing?

53 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm

in a voucher scheme, the state would apply the same rule, effectively making private schools into public schools. In short order,

No, the state will do that if the program is structured to allow them to do that and if the school administration is easily rolled. The disappearance of Catholic higher education in this country derives from the implosion of the Church’s esprit de corps much more than harassment from the federal Department of Education. When it’s something higher education administrators really want, they engage in try-every-door non-compliance.

54 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

How about if the schools can be Christan/Jews/Muslim etc. but must be part of and organization that owns a church/temple/mosk etc.?

55 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Don’t overestimate government’s hostility to religion. Like any other interest group, it’s quite easy for churches to mimic left wing ‘rights language’ to score special rights.

This isn’t always successful, for example the clerk who wanted to refuse to register same-sex marriages didn’t score a special right for herself (how about people who don’t like ginger-babies? Can they refuse to record birth certificates of widely disliked gingers?) But more often than not they do just fine.

56 prior_test2 February 13, 2017 at 9:57 am

‘Despite these results, we fail to find evidence that vouchers promote religious behavior: voucher expansion causes significant declines in church donations and church spending on non-educational religious purposes. The meteoric growth of vouchers appears to offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.’

Somehow, I doubt the Catholic Church is running its schools thinking that they are turning out a generation of non-believers. And if that was true, then the Catholic Church has been making a fatal error for centuries and centuries.

57 Anonymous February 13, 2017 at 10:00 am

“The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” – John Conquest

58 prior_test2 February 13, 2017 at 10:40 am

Well, there are those people who refer to the Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon ….

59 mulp February 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Churches provide care to the needy without regard to faith for the most part. For Christians, there are multiple bible lessons on this subject, with charity being a witness and example to the non-believer.

Catholic schools in some places have operated through multiple waves of immigration into the communities, going from Irish to Polish to Vietnamese to Cambodian with the share of Catholics falling over time but with the Catholic school most capable of serving immigrants until the kids are as simulated and they move out, pulling their parents over time, opening the community to new immigrant communities. Without serving the larger community, the critical mass of children of Catholics would fall and the schools would close.

60 Bill February 13, 2017 at 10:03 am

Interesting post. So, we subsidize churches.

Here is something that is also missing from the discussion about private schools and vouchers: public schools provide public spaces, whereas private schools do not. My nephew is an engineer, living in Alabama, the home state to all federal contractors benefiting from the largesse of Senator Shelby. In his community, there are public schools and segregation academies, sorry, private schools. One of my relative went down to Alabama to visit him. The both wanted to play basketball. So they looked for a court. All the private schools had fenced in outdoor basketball courts. The only outdoor court they could find was at a public school. The hoop was bent, but they played anyway.

Public schools offer public space; it’s just one of those externalities that often get overlooked.

61 Mike W February 13, 2017 at 10:54 am

No, “we” subsidize schools. In the same way taxpayers pick up a share of the charitable contribution deductions made by wealthy alumni to non-public ivy league universities with multi-billion dollar endowments.

62 Harun February 13, 2017 at 1:13 pm

And we subsidize them so inefficiently, others are able to use the same amount of money and run a church, too!

63 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 11:26 am

That is far from the purpose of Government schools and the opposite is sometimes true, open gyms at churches and non-government schools and closed gyms at Government schools.

64 Bill February 13, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Flocinna, Where do you play basketball.

65 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 1:06 pm

At the counts in a development near my home. Privately owned and I do not live there.

66 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Free rider.

67 TMC February 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

I would take “we fail to find evidence that vouchers promote religious behavior” as we don’t subsidize churches.

This is basically an accounting exercise. Numbers are from a few years ago, but still close enough. The school I went to in grade school release the school budget about 5 years ago. (I went there in the late 70s and early 80s). At the time it cost about $5k to educate a kid. Tuition was $4k with the rest picked up by the parish. Some of the schools let you donate money to the parish and used it for schooling. A bit of an end run on the taxman.

I’m guessing these vouchers basically just split apart the two functions. Religious activity of years past is now put into the education column of the new accounting sheet. I doubt there has been any real change in behavior, except that the schools have more students because of education being subsidized. My old parish school has a number of students that are not Catholic. Not something that happened before.

68 Bill February 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm

TMC, as you point out correctly, money is fungible.

69 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Add to tuition other benefits. For example, as a religious/charitable entity does the Catholic school pay property taxes? Do they have to practice the same labor laws as a public school? Do they have to take any student no matter how difficult their disabilities as public schools do? If you add those ‘indirect subsidies’ to the tuition (whether or not paid for by vouchers), the cost differential is probably smaller.

Remember most non-Catholic private schools are not shockingly cheaper in tuition than public schools. Perhaps some of that is marketing to luxury orientated upper class people but if it was so easy to operate a school at a fraction of the public cost then why wouldn’t we see many non-religious private schools mopping up the market?

70 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Boonton, 31% of the real property in New York is tax exempt and philanthropies of all kinds are excused from property taxes, even private colleges with large endowments and huge tax flows.

71 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Huge revenue flows.

72 Boonton February 14, 2017 at 10:16 am

This, then, needs to be considered as part of the cost. It also should be considered as already providing parents using Catholic schools as a subsidy. If the Catholic school had to pay tax like a factory or warehouse or large department store pays tax, then it’s quite possible instead of $5K per year the cost might be $9K or higher. That would mean taxpayers are already funding the private schools to some degree.

73 David Ptr February 13, 2017 at 12:12 pm

We’ve been doing so at the level of higher education for years.

74 Axa February 13, 2017 at 10:10 am

Why donate personal income to the preferred religious group when it’s easier to donate all people’s taxes (vouchers)?

On 50 years that all of us are dead, the kids getting schooled today with religious notes are going to support them. Those religious groups are really clever for thinking long term.

75 byomtov February 13, 2017 at 10:12 am

I thought the point of vouchers was to pay for the schools, not be a source of income for the churches. Why should the money flow to the parishes? That seems plainly unconstitutional.

76 David Ptr February 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm

It’s not unconstitutional because it occurs through market mechanisms, not direct transfers. Take a church that runs a soup kitchen, for example. If the city government starts a soup kitchen, this might reduce the business at the church’s soup kitchen, meaning that the church needs to fund it with less money, in effect giving a transfer to the church, which can use the money it would have spent on soup for something else. This goes both ways – a church can open a soup kitchen as well, effectively reducing the amount the city government needs to spend on its own soup kitchen, resulting in a net transfer from the church’s coffers to the city council’s budget.

It’s really impossible for two actors in the same sphere not to influence one another in some way, and no reasonable interpretation of the first amendment could ever demand this.

77 Decimal February 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Church soup kitchens are businesses that make profit?

78 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 3:15 pm

No but I think David’s point is that if the gov’t opens their own soup kitchen or does a lot of other types of programs (food stamps, work programs, social work, etc.) then fewer people may need the Church’s kitchen which lowers their costs. Is that a subsidy to the church?

Or consider Medicare for older people. If the gov’t didn’t have that health care would be a huge expense for the Church (which has a lot of religious who are elderly). Is that a Church subsidy or simply an indirect one.

79 afvan February 13, 2017 at 10:16 am

I lived for many years in the Milwaukee area. You might want to look at the actual membership rolls per parish including age range. I suspect the downtown parishes are getting smaller and older. Milwaukee has many parish church schools making them quite accessible. Many will feel that some religious instruction is a small amount to pay for the oasis of order.

80 AnthonyB February 13, 2017 at 2:55 pm

“Some religious instruction” involves for some a sacrifice of their probity and is hence an unacceptably high price to pay.

81 albatross February 13, 2017 at 3:44 pm

I assume you’ve got some actual point you’re trying to make, but I can’t quite figure out what it is. Maybe you could try, you know, *saying* what you mean?

82 Turkey Vulture February 13, 2017 at 10:24 am

One potential outcome is a linkage of churches to the state that ultimately leads to discrediting the churches and a further decline in religiosity.

I think the relative vitality of religion in America vs. Europe is due, in part, to the relatively successful separation of church and state here. When there is an established church, political opposition can easily expand to religious oppositon.

83 Axa February 13, 2017 at 10:28 am

It’s the church tax.

84 j_mct February 13, 2017 at 10:27 am

One shouldn’t be surprised at all that vouchers displace private donations for schools. I give some amount of money every year to send kids to parochial schools in Newark NJ, and I’d much rather give it elsewhere since the govt is supposed to pay for all this, and they don’t since spending on the public schools in Newark NJ isn’t really about education. So if NJ adopted vouchers for Newark, the donations for education would drop, as in so what. Since parochial schools in places like Newark mainly educate poor kids at a reasonable tuition, way lower than per pupil spending in the Newark public schools, and since if they had a choice, lots of parents would send their kids to a parochial school, as in lots don’t do it now because they don’t have the money, voucher spending being a large piece of a parochial school budget is a so what finding too.

Per the effects about general religiosity going down, if that finding were a stock I would be selling it short with extreme prejudice. One of the things in all school choice type findings is that parents seem to be satisfied with the voucher school far in excess than the social scientists’ metrics would deem rational. That could mean that the social scientists metric is not capturing everything of relevance, as in they’re not very good at social science, at least when measured by ‘is this actually right’ yardstick, or the parents are idiots. I know which one I’d bet on being true.

85 Hazel Meade February 13, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Parent satisfaction might be due to greater parental control and input into their kids education. At a small school run by the local parish, individuals parents voices have much greater impact than in a large school district.

I think a lot of people assume that vouchers are meant to finance parochial schools, but really all parents want is to get their kids into any school that is not the public school system. They don’t care about religion that much, they just want more control over their kids education and the more localized parish-run schools provide that.

86 Hazel Meade February 13, 2017 at 3:17 pm

To follow up, I am an atheist, but even I mull over the idea of putting my kids in a Catholic school just because they would not be in the public school system and it might be cheaper than an expensive private school.

87 j mct February 13, 2017 at 4:42 pm

If you do decide that, they’ll take you, though your kids will have to take religion whether you want them to or not. I guess they’ll know something about what they don’t believe in then. They will not mind if you’re an atheist, as long as you’re not evangelical about it, i.e. you’re a sane atheist.

You’d be right about the teachers and the like will talk to you more than the public school teacher will, but you cannot really do some sort of designer program for your kids at a parochial school. They’ll have to wear the same uniform as everyone else.

88 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Ha ha ha. The catastrophe at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina was stoked by a quondam religion teacher at the school acting through a co-operative student. A great many of these people are free-booting twerps. For a mess of others, it’s just a business.

89 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm

What do you mean ‘if parents had a choice’ and ‘government is supposed to pay for all that’? There’s been Catholic schools in Newark since before 1900. At no point were they paid for by the gov’t yet plenty of kids went through them. Think Italians in Newark in the 1910’s were richer than Newark parents today? Think again.

90 j mct February 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Parochial schools were much cheaper in the past. I do not know about Newark specifically, but in NYC, parochial schools were free for parishioners until the late 1940’s and I suspect that Newark’s were too. One can make all the nun jokes one wants but nuns, and priests and monks to a lesser extent, more or less worked for free and many were school teachers. So all those Italian families in Newark in the 1910’s paid the same out of pocket that they would have paid if they sent their kids to public school, as in zero. Some but not all Catholic high schools charged a fee, but it was smaller than it usually is now.

Catholic schools are more expensive that they were, mostly because clergy, who work for free, are so rare, even getting a nun or a priest as the principal of a high school is pretty rare, and more than one in a school is well nigh unheard of. Lay teachers need to be paid.

Govt is supposed to pay for education, and in many places I guess ‘education’ might be the object of the enterprise, but if you think beyond a mild amount of lip service, that anyone connected with the Newark public education system has kids getting educated at the top of their list of priorities, you should think again. It’s not that it isn’t there at all, but it’s so far down the list of priorities that it often doesn’t matter. So if they did create a voucher program in Newark, lots of kids who would be going to parochial schools that are going to the public schools now. I have no doubt that if the vouchers were in limited supply they’d be fully subscribed. One wonders if they fully voucherized, as in there were no limit to how many vouchers could be issued, one wonders if the public school system in Newark could actually survive that without getting it’s act together.

91 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Catholic schools are more expensive that they were, mostly because clergy, who work for free, are so rare, even getting a nun or a priest as the principal of a high school is pretty rare, and more than one in a school is well nigh unheard of. Lay teachers need to be paid.

What happened was that the religious orders imploded demographically. The decline in vocations among diocesan clergy occurred pari passu with the decline in Mass attendance. Some secular clergy were assigned to teach, but that was more an activity of the regular clergy, brothers, and teaching sisters. Parish clergy today have a great deal more in the way of travel costs and physical plant to look after than was the case in 1963, so are less available for teaching. I’ve heard of religious orders wherein the intake declined by more than 95%. The Jesuits, who made up the largest order of religious priests, saw a 90% decline in the number taking their vows. The manpower isn’t there, and the lay teachers hired are more expensive, far less religiously educated, and commonly not on board with what the Church teaches. (Of course, a great many clergy and religious are not on board either, but with clergy and religious you have a 1-in-3 shot as opposed to a 1-in-25 shot).

92 Boonton February 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

So your argument seems to collapse. You’re saying the communities in 1910 had large numbers who worked for free has clergy teaching in the Catholic schools. Today they are more expensive than they were because there’s less clergy. Whose fault is that? No one took away anyone’s choice to become a priest, monk, or nun. If tomorrow thousands of Catholics suddenly took holy orders and applied themselves to teaching they could enjoy once again cheaper schools (granted not dirt cheap, healthcare alone costs much more today). If you no longer want to do the work yourself then you’re going to pay someone else.

93 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 10:29 am

Tyler – I don’t have access to NBER papers so I’m only able to read the abstract. I don’t understand “government vouchers” being used for Catholic schools. I don’t think that this is Federal funding as vouchers don’t exist yet though Ms. DeVos is keen to move in that direction. Federal vouchers for parochial schools would be violative of the first amendment and my dear ACLU as well as other groups would immediately file suit. So my question is where do these “government vouchers” in Milwaukee come from?

94 David Gonzalez February 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm

I think the ACLU would certainly immediately file, but I think the assumption that those funds would be found violation the first amendment is a bit of a leap. Conceivable outcome at SCOTUS: Once the voucher is ‘given’ to the family, it’s no longer ‘government’ money, it’s the family’s. If they choose to use it at a ‘public’ school, it’s their money. If they use it at a non-sectarian ‘private’ school, it’s their money. If they use it at a parochial school, it’s still their money at that point.

I’m not saying it’s the right outcome or the pre-ordained one (see what I did there?), but it’s a very plausible one. Social Security isn’t the governments after it’s transferred to my mother’s bank account, it’s hers. Same with other government transfers. The money on an EBT card isn’t government money either. If a church owns a grocery and accepts those funds, it doesn’t (I don’t think) violate the 1st amendment.

I honestly don’t have any personal warmth for parochial school. I went to a public, non-charter school. My kids are set to at least start at one (though both have their eyes on jr. high magnets down the street that are effectively public charter schools). However, in many urban markets, we cheat our kids to support higher incomes for teachers, many who aren’t effective. In Dallas, we’re pretty close to explicit about it. We need to figure out how to educate our kids for this century’s challenges, and I don’t care what building they’re in as long as poor kids get as good of a chance as rich suburban kids. I went to TERRIBLE schools, solely b/c of where we lived and my parents’ income. Luckily, my kids don’t have to do that, but I’m incredibly compassionate towards kids stuck in that situation.

Anti-Voucher advocates tend to be the same people that decry the lack of opportunity for poor, mostly minority populations. Having grown up in that group set, I’m at a loss for why teacher’s work rules and seniority lists are more important than getting kids an education that offers the opportunity for a more positive outcome.

95 Turkey Vulture February 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Your analysis of the constitutional implications seems reasonable. And I would think the vouchers could be designed in a way that makes their invalidation even less likely. Like, say they are a refundable credit against federal income tax. Maybe the refundable aspect would have a super-important impact on the analysis that I am not aware of, but tax deductions for money donated to churches seems to easily pass constitutional muster.

96 albatross February 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm

My wife went to a Catholic high school with a large fraction of non-Catholic students. If I understand correctly, the only difference in education was that the Catholic students had one religion class, and the non-Catholic students got a study hall for that period. I don’t know how the courts would rule, but it sure seems to me that something like this would be a workable way to allow vouchers without having government-funded religion. The voucher doesn’t cover the cost of the religious education–that’s paid for by the church or the parents, as needed.

97 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:07 pm

A voucher program which is open to all schools in which

1. The body of students enrolled therein meet certain performance metrics on state regents exams; and

2. Eschew charging tuition and fees or conditioning admission and retention on donations;

3. Respect certain norms in the production and publication of financial statements, employee compensation, fiduciary conduct of trustees and administrators

does not favor one denomination over another. The redemption value of the voucher is the same for all schools and the flow of funds is entirely patron driven. There is neither an establishment of religion or an inhibition on free-exercise in such a program.

98 TMC February 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Not much different than medicaid paying for healthcare at a Catholic hospital.

99 Robbb February 13, 2017 at 10:31 am

I may have to reconsider my opposition to vouchers. As I understand it, the European church subsidies are a key reason for the relative lack of extremist religious feelings there. Ministers with a cushy state subsidy feel no need to rile up the yokels.

I would pay a lot for that here.

100 rayward February 13, 2017 at 10:33 am

Does a church support the parochial school or does the parochial school support the church? I was a member of two different churches (the same Christian denomination) in my sunbelt city. Both had highly regarded (parochial) schools associated with them. One school, which had originally been located on the church campus, had long ago relocated because the school had outgrown the church campus. The other school is still on the church campus. The school that had relocated has grades first through 12 and is the best academic school in the area, its graduates attending prestigious colleges around the country. The other school, also highly regarded academically, has only grades first through eight, many of the graduates moving on to the other school for ninth through 12th grades. The church with the school that relocated has suffered a significant loss of membership, whereas the church with its school on the church campus thrived. Indeed, many parents joined the church believing it improved the chances of their children being admitted to the school. Also, many of the students at the school that relocated are not members of the same religion; indeed, many of the students and their parents are not even aware that it is a parochial school. When I moved to the older church the rector and members of the vestry asked me why my former church was thriving while my new church was not. The answer was that my new church made the mistake of relocating its parochial school. In other words, the school supports the church rather than the church supports the school.

101 Jane Dewitt February 13, 2017 at 10:57 am

It depends on the situation, obviously. Maybe super schools in relatively affluent areas support attached parishes, but in many cases the parishes are supporting the schools. It does seem likely that that might change with vouchers, however.

102 Boonton February 13, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Sounds like if vouchers expanded many schools would end up re-locating off the ‘Church campus’ since it will be easier to expand capacity by finding it elsewhere rather than trying to buy land right next to the campus (esp. if your church is in a more premium downtown area).

103 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 10:41 am

I am against vouchers but I would like to see an experiment where the public schools charge something per student for schooling the children of the middle class and the rich. That would be sufficient incentive for people to put their children in private schools. The thing I am curious about is whether people would sensible and rational and put their children in schools that spend significantly less per student than the Government schools saving us all money or if they would act like they do now and spend more than optimal.

104 Floccina February 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

What I expect Parents would Demand from Schools if they were not Run by Government
Expecting parents and students to select the schools that provide the Best Educations through a voucher program is like expecting food stamp recipients to use free market judgement to select the healthiest food in the supermarket.

I am against vouchers because but I do think we should experiment charging he non-poor for each child that they put in Government schools based on their income but..

I would expect parents to select schools that serve their wants most. Like:

1. School that are open 7:00 am-6:00 pm for daycare before and after classes.
2. Schools open in the summer.
3. Schools that handle most problems on site without calls to parents.
4. Schools that do not charge too much. (IMHO we in the USA spend way to much on schooling.)
5. Schools that teach what the parents want on religious issues like evolution.
6. Sports.
7. An middling education. (In Korea children go to school from 8:00 am to 10: pm, we are not that schooling crazy in the USA.) Schooling adds less that most people think.
This would be good.

Also it is a wonder that private schools flunk anyone at all but they do.

105 albatross February 13, 2017 at 4:31 pm

You know, you don’t have to speculate. There are thousands of private schools (secular and religious) all over the US. The ones I know about emphasize academics and the values they teach the kids. My son also told me that in his Catholic middle school, he was learning about Genesis in religion class, and evolution in biology class. I think the other mostly-unstated selling point for private schools is that they can exclude disruptive kids. A kid who gets into fights every week, or who makes a class impossible to teach, can end up with his parents being told he’s not welcome back. The Catholic high schools around here also require an entrance exam, and if you don’t score high enough, they won’t let you in, which has the effect of making sure most of the kids in the school are ready for high school level work.

In terms of services, sports, after-school options, busses, etc., the public schools are way nicer than the Catholic schools around here. (I have kids in Catholic and public magnet schools.) I don’t know about other cases, but your model of how parents will select private schools for their kids doesn’t fit very well with the ones I know anything about.

106 GoneWithTheWind February 13, 2017 at 10:42 am

I do not like to criticize public schools. I think for the most part they do a good job and that good people work for these schools. I do think that for some children and some groups that the public schools fail them and mostly because of a large bureaucracy that limits the teachers. This is where alternative schools have the advantage. They can modify their teaching methods and practices to help students who most need that help. In general public school cannot do this.

107 anon February 13, 2017 at 10:43 am

I liked public-private partnerships when they were shiny and new – and rare.

I worry now that too many connections in the public-private network make a mesh that cannot be untangled. You can’t know what is efficient if you can’t tell where the money goes.

I think I like brighter lines now, between public and private ventures. That makes it easier on me .. but easier on everyone really.

108 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 10:48 am

It’s important to design voucher programs so that any retained income is added to the endowment of the school corporation and is not conveyed to any outside parties, either through straightforward transfers or through shady contracting. It’s also important that school corporations funded by vouchers be forbidden to charge tuition. It is important in addition that there be limits to compensation (with no employee being paid more than ~2.3x mean compensation per worker in the economy and with the salaries being paid to sets of 1st degree relatives counting as one salary and subject to that limit). In addition, it should be a rule that ordained persons or vowed religious be seconded by their diocese or order and not receive any compensation from the school corporation.

109 anon February 13, 2017 at 10:58 am

So you just added the cost of audit and review, lowering efficiency by that amount.

110 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm

So what? The operating budget in New York of the Department of Taxation and Finance, the State Comptroller, and the state Attorney-General amount in sum to 0.6% of total state expenditures. They’re already auditing local school districts and extant philanthropies.

111 Jeff February 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

I think this ‘effect’ has been felt for years in Milwaukee; at least intuitively. I wrote a senior thesis at UW-Milwaukee about the history of different German Lutheran and Catholic parishes in 2000. While I was more concerned with changing demographic trends in the city the issue of parochial schools and vouchers always lurked in the background.
Not to get too ‘gossipy’, but I recently heard that a particular Lutheran congregation was bringing in another pastor for the purpose of trying to convert more students and their parents into members of their parish. It’s a big deal theologically for Lutherans and Catholics to get these kids and their parents in church. Christian instruction is great, but it’s the sacraments and worship where ‘Christians’ are really being Christians.

112 rayward February 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Of course, vouchers (whether for education, health care for seniors, or any other service provided by government) are a means to an end, the end being privatization and a significant reduction in the size and role of government and in the size of taxes paid by the affluent. Whether it would improve peoples’ lives is beside the point. Why has support for government provided services such as education fallen? The honest answer is that there’s so many of “those people” today. Government provided education was fine as long as the government provided education for “those people” was inferior, especially as to cost. When “those people” started demanding equality in government provided education, all Hell broke loose. Vouchers and charter schools are just a polite way to return “those people” to an unequal and inferior education. Who are “those people”? It’s impolite to identify African Americans (or “the blacks”). So immigrants now perform the same function, but the identity of “those people” hasn’t really changed, only the level of hypocrisy has changed.

113 Hazel Meade February 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Not sure if that makes sense considering that the “voucher” is still public spending, and is available to everyone regardless of income.
Nor does the increase in spending seem to be driven by a demand for equality, nor has it resulted in such, in many public school districts, enrichment programs are being cut. Rather the spending increase seems to be driven by administrative overhead, a calcification of entrenched bureaucracy at the school district level, and diversion of resources to various extraneous non-education related purposes like lunch programs, guidance counsellors, security guards, and nurses.

114 NoahStupinion February 13, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Hope Noah blocked you on Twitter as fast as he blocked me for disagreeing with him. Since November 8th, he’s crying 24/7.

115 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Will “Sanctuary Churches” which support immigrants lose school voucher money just as cities do under Trump’s Executive Order?

116 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Money comes from state programs and not the Federal government so an Executive Order from the Prez won’t affect vouchers.

117 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm

What if they have a school which receives federal voucher money.

118 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 2:10 pm

As far as I know there are no Federal voucher programs.

119 Bill February 13, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Churches get all sorts of federal money.

“When President George W. Bush authorized federally-funded partnerships between the government and faith-based groups nearly a decade ago, he opened a new chapter in the debate over separation of church and state.

Bush’s so-called faith-based initiative green-lighted taxpayer dollars to local churches and other religious organizations to help them expand their social services in local communities. It’s an arrangement President Obama supports as well.”

Trump can do the same denial that he would do for Sanctuary Cities as he could do for Sanctuary Churches.

120 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The point of the initiative was to end discrimination against religious philanthropy in receipt of public funds. The problem is that public agencies are subsidizing private philanthropies in general, not merely religious philanthropies. The government should not be issuing grants to any private party other than individual households.

121 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I got the answer to my question that I posted questioning the use of “government vouchers” for parochial schools. Turns out that following the win by Scott Walker and the flipping of the legislature in Wisconsin in 2010, a law was passed establishing the voucher system. It gets around the constitutional question by allowing students to opt out of religious programs though it would be interesting to find out how many do. A number of religious-based schools in Milwaukee qualify for the voucher program. Voucher amounts are set at 66% of the per-capita spend for public schools and are about $7400. there obviously is means testing and vouchers are capped at 1% of the total enrollment in the school district. Last year 3000 students participated. Those interested can look at the two weblinks: and where you can see the list of schools in Milwaukee that are eligible.

In addition to what others have written above, it would be interesting to know how the voucher kids do relative to their peers in the same school who are not on vouchers and how they do versus peers in public schools in terms of achievement and proficiency.

122 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm

In looking at the list of Milwaukee schools, there is at least one Jewish and one Islamic school on the list. Most of the schools appear to be Lutheran as opposed to Catholic and there are a number of Christian schools who affiliation is uncertain (Evangelical maybe).

123 Jeff February 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Milwaukee’s voucher program dates back to 1990. This recent article might help:

124 Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:54 pm

The Microeconomics of School Vouchers

As an antitrust lawyer, and sometimes teacher, I like to apply econ and law to different, apparently unrelated, subjects.

School vouchers are a good example. What is the micro econ effect of subsidizing private religious schools.

So, if you are a minority religion (relatively few followers in the general population, or a small church with few members) and you do not have the ability to achieve the economies of scale to run a school, will you be disadvantaged relative to the large majority church next door which has a school which receives vouchers? The majority domination school gets money to cover overhead and pay faculty which have other roles in the church and your church does not.

Vouchers do not dictate the content of education. If the voucher school does not teach sex ed, or teaches abstinence only, or teaches creationism and not evolutionary biology, what effect does this lack of common education held by the general population have when this person interacts later in the general society, particularly when some of them lose their religious identity in their late teens or early 20’s.

For an example of the latter, here is a study on the effect of abstinence only education:

“The United States ranks first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In an effort to reduce these rates, the U.S. government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs for more than a decade. However, a public controversy remains over whether this investment has been successful and whether these programs should be continued. Using the most recent national data (2005) from all U.S. states with information on sex education laws or policies (N = 48), we show that increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates. This trend remains significant after accounting for socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, ethnic composition of the teen population, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state. These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S”

125 Bill February 13, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Another example of micro econ is what if there is only room in the market for a public school and a religious sponsored school. Because all the kids in the dominant religion move to the new religious school, the public school falters. Your kid has a choice: the public school or the private school where your kid gets religious training in a religion not your own.

126 AlanG February 13, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Bill see: apparently there is not much difference in test scores between voucher kids and those in the Milwaukee public schools.

127 albatross February 13, 2017 at 4:43 pm

You can address some of this by requiring some educational standards–you have to teach real biology and real history. That’s subject to political pressure/redefinition, but there’s no way to avoid some level of specifying what the vouchers are to pay for. You could require some level of health education (so the kids have to know where babies come from, how that can prevented, and something about sexually transmitted diseases).

But I expect you’d have a harder time imposing indoctrination-type education, whether that’s abstinence-only sex ed or DARE or whatever else. That’s one thing at least some subset of parents are trying to get away from. And I’ll admit that I am not at all convinced that having some kinds of indoctrination of values/beliefs for school kids defined from the top makes the world a better place.

128 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:52 pm

You can address some of this by requiring some educational standards–you have to teach real biology and real history. T

No need to do that at all. Just make use of state regents examinations for quality control. Assemble league tables of schools according to their performance on each set of examinations. Ideally, the performance metric would report rate of improvement given the psychometric profile of the school, but if you couldn’t contrive that, you’d have to use something cruder. If a school is in the bottom 1.5% of the distribution regarding performance on a given exam series, the matter would be referred to the state attorney-general who would bring suit to relieve the school of their franchise to prepare students for that exam. If a school is relieved of all its franchises, the attorney general would bring suit in a surrogate’s court to close the school and distribute its assets to other philanthropies or to the county government.

No need to directly regulate a school’s pedagogy or design model curricula at the state education department. The regents examination is all you need.

While we’re at it, biology is an appropriate subject for secondary school students seeking a comprehensive high school diploma or following a specialized program in life sciences. No need for the general run of student to take biology.

129 albatross February 14, 2017 at 9:12 am

One issue with depending on the state exams is that it would take awhile to get any data back. If your voucher-accepting high school has the kids sitting around coloring pictures with crayons for four years, I’l like to shut it down *before* we discover your graduating seniors can’t add fractions or write a complete sentence.

130 Art Deco February 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

One issue with depending on the state exams is that it would take awhile to get any data back. I

Not a whole lot. Back in the day, Educational Testing Service could produce six examinations per year when they didn’t have to publicise the test questions afterward. If you have a ready (and satisfying) protocol for analyzing the data, you can do it in short order with SAS.

131 Bill February 13, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Albatross, As I mentioned earlier elsewhere, the tack on religious liberty litigation, if it continues to be pressed, would excuse you from the mandate for an educational standard that conflicted with your religious belief.

Good luck with real biology and real history.

132 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Public schools are not globally adverse to using texts by Howard Zinn, so real history is not a universal requirement as we speak.

133 Hazel Meade February 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm

People really need to look more at how Canada’s education system works. Parochial schools are publicly funded, though not via a voucher system. They just get direct financing, just like the public (protestant) schools. If there are enough people of a particular faith present in an area that can open a school of that faith. This does open the possibility of people opening a publicly funded madrassa, but of course they have curriculum standards which ensure that the non-religious coursework is basically the same. And, IIRC parents not of the same faith can still send their kids to the school and skip the religion classes.

Personally, I don’t care much for religion, but I do care for school choice. Why not have something like this, but allow people to form independent schools based on other principles, such as teaching philosophy? Parents could have the option of sending their kids to the “progressive” school or the “essentialist” school depending on preference.

Canada obviously gets better outcomes than America and it is worth knowing why, in any case.

134 albatross February 14, 2017 at 9:01 am

The most basic notion of vouchers would allow any kind of school, right? As long as you pass the requirements (some kind of accreditation, maybe some requirements that your graduates pass the state tests at acceptable rates), you can run a school on any theory you like.

135 Hazel Meade February 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

In general, if the voucher were the equivalent of the per-child cost per year spent on the public school.

Thing is most vouchers pay less than what the actual cost per child is, so the public school system still ends up keeping most of the money and the parents either have to come up with the difference or the private school has to get by with less.

136 Edgar February 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm

The teachers’ unions are the experts to whom we must defer. If we just agree to their agenda of mandatory public education in exclusively public schools, more money, and higher salaries, we will, with all confidence be assured optimal outcomes. Let economists stick to their area of expertise, whatever that might be. Teachers know best.

137 Post-Truth Politics February 13, 2017 at 3:41 pm

“The meteoric growth of vouchers appears to offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.”

The questions that immediately pops into my mind is: Do we as a society WANT to offer financial stability for congregations? Do we want to cause their religious activities to diminish? It seems that some people might want one of these but not the other. But I wonder if any appreciable number of citizens want both to happen? Or neither?

138 Bill February 13, 2017 at 3:58 pm

What if vouchers support segregation?

We were in Northern Ireland, where the state funds Catholic schools and public schools. The Catholics went to the Catholic schools, the Protestants to the public schools.

The kids didn’t interact other than at soccer games, where it was the protestants against the Catholics.

139 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:09 pm

So what? That’s free association and parental preference.

140 Bill February 13, 2017 at 4:20 pm

I don’t want my tax money to pay for your preferences for segregation. And, if that’s what its for, we should bring that out into the open and discuss it.

141 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 4:44 pm

No, you want your social engineering schemes imposed on people who want no part in such schemes. Take your vouchers and send your children to the schools of your choice and leave other people to do the same. If you really do not want ‘your money’ employed to other people’s purposes, I suggest you get busy advocating cash-on-the-barrelhead private schooling sans truancy laws. Not sure the NEA will like that.

142 albatross February 13, 2017 at 4:49 pm


How do you feel about the way residentially zoned schools support segregation? Because there are plenty of mostly white and mostly black schools maintained by this system.

143 Bill February 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Civil Rights Act and ’64 Housing Act forbade restrictive covenants and discrimination in accommodations and housing. So, that’s how I feel.

144 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 6:53 pm

IOW, he feels evasive.

(And, while we’re at it, the open housing law was enacted in 1968 and the court decisions which rendered restrictive covenants non-enforceable were in 1948).

145 Bill February 13, 2017 at 9:00 pm


??? I don’t know what is evasive about this so please explain. I don’t want tax money subsidizing discrimination; maybe I can say it in all caps to make it clearer.

By the way, 1948 was court case dealing with enforcement of restrictive covenant by use of the courts under color of state law; private agreements without use of courts were still in effect. 1964 CR Act was the first statute and dealt with housing discrimination involving federal support (Just ask Barry Goldwater), 1968 extended CRights protections to reach the extent of interstate commerce.

146 Art Deco February 13, 2017 at 9:35 pm

I don’t want tax money subsidizing discrimination;

No, you don’t want tax money subsidizing the discrimination of which you disapprove (which, in this case, is presbyterians going to presbyterian schools and Catholics going to Catholic schools). “Discrimination” is a rhetorical jab at a perfectly ordinary human practice of people with an affinity joining together for their own purposes. It just happens to be that you despise their affinities and are too obtuse to recognize your own.

147 albatross February 14, 2017 at 9:10 am


My point is that we currently have a system (residentially zoned schools) in which there is no explicit segregation by race allowed, but there is a huge amount of segregation by race in practice. That’s not because there’s anyone being told not to come to school X because they’re the wrong color–instead, your ability to get into the best school districts depends on your family’s ability to buy a house in an expensive neighborhood. Race correlates strongly with family income and wealth, so the expensive neighborhoods are mostly white and Asian.

I’m sure any voucher program anywhere in the US is going to forbid explicit segregation, too. And yet, I expect there will be substantial segregation by race in the voucher schools, too. It will be a matter of parental choice and admissions requirements, but we’ll see the same pattern. I have no idea if there will be more or less segregation by race under vouchers than there is under the currently common scheme.

Why is one worse than the other?

I would expect somewhat more segregation by religion with vouchers, though I would also expect a lot of kids going to a religious school because it’s a good school, even when their parents aren’t members of the school’s affiliated religion. We already see this a lot now with private schools where the parents are paying their own money.

148 Bill February 14, 2017 at 9:33 am


Please read up about southern segregation academies so you can be informed about what is really going on here when I talk about vouchers and segregation directly, and not hiding it. This is a major thing, particularly in the South.

This is from Wiki…please go to the article:

“Segregation academies were or are private schools in the United States established in the mid-20th century to enable white parents to avoid having their children in desegregated public schools, which were mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education (1954). It had determined that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, but because Brown did not apply to private schools, the founding of new private academies in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was a way for whites to practice segregation.

While these schools were established chiefly in the Southern United States, private schools existed nationwide that were heavily segregated in practice, though perhaps not intentionally.

Since the late 20th century, as social patterns in United States have changed, many of these private schools began to admit minority students; others have ceased operations. Still others, in poor, majority-black regions such as the Mississippi Delta, continue to operate with few, if any, black students.”

The article then goes through each of the southern states with their history of the academies.

Here is the link:

149 Art Deco February 14, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Please read up about southern segregation academies so you can be informed about what is really going on here when I talk about vouchers and segregation directly, and not hiding it. This is a major thing, particularly in the South.

Bill, there’s no sort of Gresham’s law of culture in this realm, as there arguably is with having hookers plying their trade. Joe Blow sends his kid to a constitutionally all-white school. Fannie Jefferson sends her kid to an all-black school. You send your kid to a racially-mixed school. None of these three parties is imposing a tort on the other and none has an advantage lacked by the others.

150 albatross February 14, 2017 at 5:12 pm


Let us imagine that we implement nationwide vouchers with (as would surely happen now) a ban on discrimination by race. Ten years pass, and we note that the statistics for racial integration of the schools are about the same as they were before (when most kids went to the school that served their neighborhood). Note that there is <a href=""substantial segregation in schools today. If we ended up with the same level of racial segregation in our schools then as now, would that indicate a problem with vouchers?

I do not know whether the total segregation would go up or down under such a voucher program. Right now, residential segregation (driven by differences in income and wealth, as well as differences in jobs and where different people live) leads to a lot of schools that are not very integrated. And academically selective schools end up being overwhelmingly white and Asian. That’s in today’s world, without vouchers.

151 albatross February 14, 2017 at 5:13 pm

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