School Vouchers Help or Hindrance
Axia College of the University of Phoenix
The quality of education in this country has been declining since the early 1970’s. There have been many reasons preferred for the decline. Poor teachers, bad schools, not enough money, the list goes on. Several solutions have been suggested to correct this problem as well. School vouchers are at the top of this list of possible solutions. YourDictionary.com defines a school voucher system as “a document granting a family a certain sum per child, from public education funds, for use as partial tuition to a private or parochial school, thereby making possible enrollment there instead of in the local public school,” (n.d.). While the possibility of choice in schools sounds appealing, the cost of a voucher system could be too high. Many say that such a system will help to improve the quality of education in the United States. Others say that a voucher system will only take money away from the public schools further injuring an already crippled system.
Proponents of the voucher system believe that the use of vouchers will help to improve education. The main reason for the belief is that parents would be able to choose which school that their children would attend. In a true voucher system parents would receive funds to send their child to any school within the district. This choice could be based upon a myriad of reasons including but not limited to differing specializations in fields of study, style of education, security of the school, class sizes, academic or athletic achievement, or culture. Studies have shown that when students and parents are given a choice regarding school, there has been improvement in the overall academic performance of the public schools (Rees, 1999). There have been a few pilot programs for vouchers systems, the most notable of those being in New York City and Milwaukee.
In 1974 New York City became the first city in the nation to offer a school choice program. Rees stated that New York’s East Harlem District Four schools instituted a school choice program. The district allowed teachers to create new schools and redesign existing schools then allowing parents to choose which public school their children would attend. By 1987, the program had raised reading test scores from last place in 1973 to 15th among the city’s 32 districts. A study performed by researchers at the State University of New York found a direct correlation between the choice schools and increased test scores (1999).
When the choice involves private schools, the results are similar as seen in Milwaukee, the nation’s first school choice program that publicly supported private schools. The school board of Milwaukee unanimously voted to support Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE), a private scholarship program offering choice to several families in Milwaukee. The members of the board sent a letter to parents asking them donate money to PAVE to help at risk children who were disadvantaged enrolled in inadequate public schools and to help spark reform to the public school system in Milwaukee (Rees, 1999). In 1990, Milwaukee began the nation’s first voucher program that allowed parents the opportunity to choose between both public and private schools. The state legislature required the program to be evaluated for effectiveness after each year for five years. The results of these studies show that in general the parents of these students were more satisfied with the quality of education their children were receiving in the private schools then that of the educations their children had received in the public school system (Molnar, 1999).
The case against vouchers argues that the choice offered by the voucher system is not the choice of the parents. Even before a family receives a voucher in order to attend a private school, the parents must first win a lottery and prove that their family meets the income eligibility guidelines in order to receive a voucher. This is not the family choosing, this is the family being chosen. Once a family is selected by lottery to receive a voucher the nest step is to be accepted into a private school, because of the way that private schools are set up the school is not required to accept all applicants. Again, this is the family being chosen this time by the school. Private schools have rigorous requirements that applicants must meet in order to be accepted. Those same schools can choose to deny children admittance for failure to meet any of the requirements.
The private school can choose not to accept a child based on any number of reasons including but not limited to low test scores, discipline problems, or lack of attendance. This cannot be considered parental choice when the actual power to choose is in the hands of the school. The lack of choice does not end there either. Once a child has been accepted to a private school, there is no guarantee that the child will be allowed to remain in the school. Private schools do not have the regulations regarding suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions faced by public schools. So at any point, for any reason a parent could be faced with having to send a child back to the same public school, which the family chose to remove the child from originally.
Research has shown that New York’s District Four and Milwaukee need not be the only instances of improvement through a school voucher program. A voucher program creates competition. Economics have shown that competition is healthy and serves to spark an improvement in services as the money will follow the better service. Through this same competition, a voucher program could serve to spark improvement in public schools. Rees (1999) cites a study by Harvard University assistant professor, Caroline Hoxby, which states:
In areas where public schools compete heavily for the same students, she found overall student tests scores rose by three percentile points, students’ wage gains after graduation increased by four percent, and the probability of college graduation increased by 0.4%. In areas where public and private schools compete for the same students, Hoxby’s research showed more pronounced academic improvements. Among students transferring from public to private school, Hoxby found a 12% increase in the probability of college graduation. Hoxby also found an eight-percentile point improvement in the test scores of the students in these areas who remained in public schools.
This leads one to believe that public and private schools respond favorably to competition for students. This competition can only serve to provide better quality education for the students in the district. The school with the better teachers and academic performance is more likely to attract students then the school with lower test scores.
The competition that proponents of the voucher system speak of is not a fair competition. Due to the lack of regulations on private schools, the proverbial deck is stacked against the public school system. Due to the way that public schools are designed, they must accept all children. Private schools are allowed to select those children the school allows to attend. Public schools have rigorous regulations due process that private schools are exempt from (Tancredo, 1996). This places public schools in a nearly impossible situation, as private schools are not governed by the state but rather by a board of trustee that happen to be more lenient concerning due process in disciplinary action.
Public schools deal with regulations regarding the qualifications a teaching candidate must have as well as what the curriculum must cover. This places a significant hardship on public schools to be able to reform. Private schools are not restricted in these ways. If a voucher system was to be instituted and families sent children to private schools the public schools would lose funding. This would mean less money for the children left in the public school system; less money would lead to funding for extracurricular activities being cut; less money would mean less teachers or lower quality teachers as the public school system would not be able to pay as much in salary or benefits as the private schools. The voucher system would only serve to further hinder the public schools, not spark a movement toward reform and improvement of the of the public education system in this country.
After reviewing both sides of this issue, it is clear that valid arguments exist on each side. As previously stated vouchers do improve the test scores of those children lucky enough to receive them. However, what is the cost to the public schools that have lost money due to these voucher programs? Studies have shown us that a solution to the country’s education crisis needs to be found quickly. The question becomes are vouchers that solution? One could say that with all the evidence in support of vouchers that the system has proven itself capable of delivering on the promise to improve the quality of education the nation’s children will receive. The studies on the impact of vouchers on the public education system have not been completed. While the studies on the effects of vouchers on the children who receive them are numerous and complete; there are currently no complete studies on the impact of the loss of funding to the public schools in the districts where voucher systems have been implemented. Without studies on the effects of vouchers on the public school system, it is fair to conclude that a decision cannot be reached whether a voucher system is the answer to the education problems that we are currently facing in this country.
Molnar, A. (1999, October). Educational Vouchers: A Review of the Research. The Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation Retrieved April 29, 2008 from: http://epsl.asu.edu/epru/documents/EdVouchers/educationalvouchers3.html#milwaukee
Rees, S. N. (1999, February). Public School Benefits of Private School Vouchers. The
Hoover Institution. Retrieved March 5, 2008, from:
Tancredo, T. (1991, December). Education Vouchers: America can’t afford wait. Independence Issue Paper. Retrieved January 29, 2008 from http://www.i2i.org/main/article.php?article_id=670
Your Dictionary.com. Voucher definition. Your Dictionary.com. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from http://www.yourdictionary.com/voucher