Like Robert Reich, I'm a liberal who suspects school vouchers could achieve some progressive ends. So I was interested to read Kevin Drum's latest on the subject. Kevin thinks school vouchers are a stalking horse to bust teachers unions. I think that's pegging conservative perfidy rather narrowly... it's a stalking horse for hand-outs to the rich and privatizing everything as well.
That doesn't mean that a grand bargain on vouchers might not be worthwhile (as far-fetched as that might be politically.) I'm agnostic about whether vouchers might improve the quality of education; the pilot programs I've read about seem to point both ways.
The argument for vouchers that I find more persuasive is Reich's. He points to the massive inequities of the American educational system -- how it is funded largely by local property taxes -- and asserts that vouchers could shift the funding from the local to the federal and state level, evening out the playing field.
Beyond that, it occurs to me that if every parent with a school-aged child gets a piece of paper with a dollar amount on it from the government, then funding for education would become politically impossible to cut and very easy to raise. The constituency for educational spending would be broader and more influential, and the effect of cuts would hit them in a direct and monetary way. Ronald Reagan cut education by 18.6% in his first term. In a world with vouchers, that just couldn't happen.