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School Vouchers: Pros and Cons

November 25, 2015

A school voucher is a credit given to parents who want to move their child from a public school to a private school of their choosing. Most voucher programs involve moving taxpayers’ money from public schools to private schools. They allow parents to take their child’s’ portion of the per pupil spending of the state and reallocate the funds to private schools. School voucher programs have started to spread across the country. Such programs exist in Milwaukee, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Washington DC. In light of the recent expansion of such programs, Wonk Tank will be analyzing the pros and cons of this contentious policy to allow you to come to your own conclusions.

Voucher School vs Public School

Pros

1) School vouchers allow parents the right to choose.

School vouchers allow parents and students to choose the right school for them, be it private or public. This freedom of choice is seen by many as a fundamental right, and many frown upon the government taxing citizens without allowing them to use the funding toward private schools. Vouchers allow parents to choose the best school for their children, and could be seen as rewarding higher-performing schools. This could also force under-performing schools to improve their education or lose out on state dollars.

2) School vouchers allow lower-income students the right to better education.

Private schools are usually only available to students coming from wealthier families. These schools often provide a better education, leading to higher graduation rates and nearly twice the amount of students who go onto college.[1] Private schools offer more efficient spending of government dollars, with an estimated 93% of these schools spending less than their public alternatives.[2] Through vouchers, lower-income students could utilize these resources, allowing them the best possible education.

3) Voucher programs lead to better public schools overall.

The competitive model has worked to provide citizens with improved technology and products in other industries, so why shouldn’t the government incentivize it in education? Some worry that voucher programs will simply funnel money away from public schools, worsening their decline. However, vouchers do not lower the quality of public schools. On the contrary, research has shown that public schools nearby voucher-ready private schools made significantly more improvements than comparable public schools.[3] When voucher systems are made available, public and private schools both show increases in test scores and graduation rates.[4]

Money and Education 

Cons
1) School vouchers violate the separation of church and state.

School vouchers are often just an underhanded way for the government to fund religious education. Voucher programs provide credit for parents to send their children to private schools. The problem is that the majority of these private schools are religious in nature. More that 80% of the approved private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program for example, are religious schools[5]. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with sending your child to a Catholic, Buddhist, or Islamic school, public funds should not be used for that purpose. That fundamentally violates the separation of church and state because states are being forced to fund religious education

2) Voucher programs just don’t work.

Perhaps the main argument for the existence of voucher programs is that they allow students to get a higher quality education than they would have gotten in their failing public schools. However, research is putting that claim under scrutiny. Studies of the federally funded DC voucher program found that there was no conclusive evidence that vouchers affected student achievement. In fact, children who were given the school voucher performed no better in math and reading than the children who weren’t given vouchers[6]. Interestingly enough, the study did find higher satisfaction rates among parents with children in voucher schools. However, student satisfaction rates were statistically similar for both non voucher and voucher students. Similar studies of the longest running school voucher program in the country in Milwaukee actually found that public school students outperformed voucher students at every grade level on the statewide reading and math tests[7].

3) Voucher programs actively harm our failing public school system.

No matter how successful voucher programs are, they are ultimately a short term solution. Private schools will never have enough seats to educate every child. At the same time, taking money out of public school systems to allow a lucky few to attend private schools is harmful in the long run for the public school system. It takes away much needed public funds, and most of the times, from already failing schools. Pretending that school vouchers are a viable solution detracts from our ability to have meaningful conversations about the need to spend more money on public education. At a time when teacher shortages are rampant, class sizes are ballooning[8], and the racial achievement gap is widening [9], we can no longer call for ‘school choice’ in the form of school vouchers. That just puts off the real conversation about adequately funding our public schools so that they can actually provide quality cost free education for all. Any policy that doesn’t address that core problem isn’t worthy of consideration.

Conclusion

The research on vouchers has allowed many politicians and educators to come to very different conclusions on the effectiveness and impact of these programs. Many districts have had great successes with vouchers, while others struggled with them. The long-term impact of these policies has not yet been determined, but hopefully with the coming years we will have the data to make more informed decisions on education policy.



  [1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Schools in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey(NCES 2013-312).

 

  [2] Schaeffer, Adam (2010). “They Spend WHAT? (The Real Cost of Public Schools)”. Cato Institute.

 

  [3]“When Schools Compete: The Effects of Vouchers on Florida Public School Achievement” (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, 2003)

 

  [4]Hoxby, Caroline, “Rising Tide” Education Next, Winter, 2001.

 

  [5] Borsuk, Alan. “Study Finds Results of MPS and Voucher School Students Are Similar.” Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. November 23, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015. http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/41868652.html

 

  [6] Wolf, Patrick, et al. “Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report. NCEE 2010-4018.” National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance(2010).

 

  [7] “Number of Voucher Schools Relatively Unchanged since 2003 While Enrollment Has Doubled.” Public Policy Forum-Research Brief 102, no. 1 (2014).

 

 

  [8] Dillon, Sam. “Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms.” The New York Times. March 6, 2011. Accessed November 23, 2015.

 

  [9] Reardon, Sean F. “The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations.” Whither opportunity(2011): 91-116.
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  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>