School Tuition Vouchers

Guest essay E. S.

© Ask Noah International

For many people across the nation, this is a very emotionally charged subject. For families that have children eligible for vouchers, it means a chance for a better education. For public schools, it raises the fear of financial collapse. The voucher system affects all the taxpayers in our country as well. That’s why President George H. W. Bush preferred to name it “scholarships,” or “parental choice.”

What is a voucher? It’s a government cash grant or tax credit for parents, that covers all or part of the cost of educating their child at an elementary or secondary school of their choice.

The history of vouchers dates back to 17’92 when Thomas Paine proposed a voucher-like plan for England. The voucher system did not gain popularity in the United States until the early 19’50s, when states in the South established tuition grants as a method of perpetuating segregation. In 19’55, economist Milton Friedman proposed vouchers as a way to equalize education. Segregationists justified their tuition grants on Friedman’s grounds, but were rejected by the Federal government.

In the 19’80s, interest in vouchers had a resurgence, mainly due to the failure of public schools in different areas of the country. Today, all modern voucher programs prohibit racial discrimination, but are controversial because they are intertwined with political and ideological splits.

There are several places in the U.S. today that have implemented the voucher system. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, led the way in 19’90, with the city of Cleveland following in 1995. The Federal government also provides a voucher program in Washington, D.C., as well as in Florida.

In general, public support for vouchers is mixed, but 40% of those surveyed admit that they don’t know enough about school vouchers to form an opinion. It is important for people to understand more about school vouchers since the issue is affecting more and more areas. I think vouchers are a good way to improve the failing public school system across our country.

There are many reasons why vouchers are a good choice.

One is that while higher-income parents have the privilege of choice in what school they send their kids to, many poor parents do not. And they should. For poor parents who cannot afford private school tuition, their only option may be a crime-ridden public school, which, although it has no tuition, fails in many measures of academics. Is this fair?

As Justice Rehnquist wrote in favor of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Ohio voucher system, “We believe the program challenged here is a program of true private choice. The Ohio program is neutral in all respects toward religion. It is a part of a general and multi-faceted undertaking by the State of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed school district.”

Another plus to the voucher system is the idea that the competition between schools will increase, leading to better quality of education.

Opposers of school vouchers argue that since most schools in the program are religious, government funding violates the First Amendment of separation of church and state. This is not a valid argument, however, because the government funds go to the parents. Once the parents have these funds, it is their individual choice as to what type of school they put their children in, either religious or non-religious. Therefore, the government would in no way be violating the constitutional clause of separation of church and state.

One of the main reasons vouchers started was due to the failure of public schools. Opposers to the voucher system point to the inevitable collapse of the public school system as a result of vouchers. They argue, “Why don’t we try to improve the already existing system rather than divert funds away public schools which will only make bad schools worse?”

But that’s the point. With the past track record, and the stressed economy today, there isn’t a very likely chance that public schools will improve. We need to come up with a creative alternative that will work. With vouchers, more money is put into the private sector that will develop innovative and cost effective solutions.

One claim of opposers that I do agree with is that while public schools are subject to regulations and standards, private schools don’t have an equally imposed bar that they must measure up to. I think that if public funds are going to private schools, it does seem reasonable that they should meet at least the same standards in their secular department as the public schools in achievement and assessment results.

Too much regulation from the government in private schools would not be good, however, since allowing flexibility in teaching methods is partly what brings the academic success to private schools.

Overall, I think vouchers are a good system and investment for bettering the education of our nation’s youth. School vouchers won’t solve all of our education challenges, but they would be a good start. Once voucher systems are in place on a state-by-state basis, we will learn through experience how the system can be optimized.