In a few neighborhoods in Chicago, there is a call for building more public schools due to overcrowding. But when one looks at vacancies in public schools adjacent to these overcrowded schools, one often finds excess capacity that can accommodate more students. It is therefore apparent that some schools are overcrowded because they are schools of refuge from less desirable schools. Nevertheless, the public constituency for what I refer to as “refuge overcrowding” calls for the building of new schools rather than fixing the adjacent schools that are less desirable.
Because neither the state, nor the county, nor the city have enough money, the means to build a new school of refuge is usually a Tax Increment Financing district, or TIF. A TIF is basically a public means to rob Peter to pay Paul, through public financial slight of hand that prevents Peter, Peter being whoever loses in the TIF deal, from ever finding out the truth of the matter. Even so, the public sector bears an undue capital burden to build a new school when an adjacent school has excess capacity. The public sector in Illinois, be it state or local government, barely has enough money to avoid bankruptcy and utter collapse. Despite this fundamental change in the fiscal position of government, public leaders continue to argue for capital expenditures as if we were in a period of growth, which we are not. This wishful thinking is sheer folly, since their proposed new capital expenditures cannot be completed to a high degree of quality, nor sustained and maintained in a declining future.
I therefore propose a different way to think about preK-12 schools, and that is to think of all such schools, be they public, charter, parochial, or private, as all one educational system. If we look at the capacity of this combined educational system of all schools, there is more than enough capacity to educate all the available children. But what is seemingly missing is a financial mechanism to fund all the schools.
I wrote “seemingly missing” because the financial mechanism is educational or school vouchers which are unpopular with a vocal fraction of the political sector. Educational vouchers help prevent needless capital expenditures on new public school buildings by funding the more efficient use of all existing educational buildings. They are a better use of public funds for education primarily for this very reason–that they preclude the need to build new schools by funding the whole educational system rather than funding new capital improvements for the often stressed or dis-functional public fragment of it.
Educational vouchers would easily allow non-public schools to accommodate many of the students facing overcrowding in nearby public schools when one factors in the reduction in capital outlays. Due to the dire financial condition of the public sector in Illinois that prevents capital expenditures, there is presently a real opportunity to make the school voucher argument as a way to reduce the need for future capital spending. It is therefore surprising that the argument for vouchers is not made more forcefully at this very time of opportunity for school vouchers by educational, non-profit, and religious leaders responsible for non-public schools. This could be due to lack of insight, to distraction, or perhaps, to cowardice.
© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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