Quality Schools, Not School Vouchers
It’s back-to-school time. In conservative politics, that means it’s time to pull out their tired old ideological war-horse, school vouchers. But vouchers represent a cut-and-run strategy in public education. By definition, vouchers abandon the goal of—and shirk responsibility for—providing a quality education to all students. In fact, Americans have never liked school vouchers: voters have rejected every voucher and tuition tax credit referendum proposed in the past 30 years. [National School Boards Association] Nevertheless, there are voucher programs for a limited number of low-income students in four cities (Cleveland, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C.), and in four states (Florida, Georgia, and Ohio, as well as Arizona, where they are offered only to students with disabilities and/or foster children).
There is no credible evidence that school vouchers improve student achievement. Two studies from Bush’s own Department of Education found that the voucher program in Washington D.C. has had no impact on students’ academic performance. [Department of Education 2007, 2008] An exhaustive eight-year study of Milwaukee’s school voucher program reached the same conclusion. [Economic Policy Institute] The Milwaukee study also found that vouchers failed to raise public school achievement through competition, as many conservatives had claimed they would.
There is no credible evidence that private schools are better than public schools. There is virtually no difference between public and private school students’ academic achievements, once family background characteristics are taken into account. [U.S. Department of Education, Center on Education Policy] Attending a private school does not make a low-income student more likely to attend college, or to find a satisfying job later in life. [Center on Education Policy]
Vouchers fail to put private education in reach of students from the neediest families. Voucher programs do not cover the full cost of tuition at many private schools, leaving families and the schools to make up the difference. New Orleans, for example, caps voucher payments at $6,300, though the area’s elite private schools charge tuitions of over $20,000 a year. [Times-Picayune] Vouchers also fail to help low-income families meet other costs of private education, such as uniforms, books, and transportation.
Private schools receiving vouchers are not held to the same level of accountability as public schools. Even though vouchers are funded with public-school dollars, the private schools that take them do not have to meet the same standards that public schools do, such as those outlined in the No Child Left Behind law. In Washington, D.C., nearly 18 percent of schools that received vouchers reported that a significant proportion of their teachers lacked bachelor’s degrees, and many of the schools were not accredited. [Government Accountability Office]
Our goal must be quality education for all, not for a few. We know that every child should have the opportunity to attend a high-quality school—so he or she can grow up to live the American Dream. Vouchers take funding, energy, and attention away from public schools, which is precisely the opposite of what’s needed.
School voucher programs don’t work. Voters have consistently opposed vouchers for good reason: they don’t offer individual students a better education, nor do they increase competition between schools. Support for voucher programs is grounded only in ideology, not facts.
Vouchers give private schools more choices—not parents. Private schools are not required to accept vouchers, and students who wish to use them must still win the approval of the school’s admissions committee.
Public funds should support public schools. Instead of wasting public school dollars on private schools, we should invest in programs intended to improve every school, such as smaller class sizes, magnet programs, and measures to recruit and retain the very best teachers.