One of the mantras of school choice advocates is that “the money”–whether federal, state, or local–“should follow the child.” It should be stuffed in a backpack that he or she can spend wherever they choose. The claim is made both for charters and vouchers, and behind it is the assertion that the money somehow belongs to the child, not the community that paid taxes.

Peter Greene here shows what a fallacious claim that is.

He writes:

“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….

“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….

“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. ….”

Whose money is it?