Recently, the use of school vouchers has become more widespread. Essentially, these vouchers act as tickets, issued by the government, that allow the parents of a child to choose a private or charter school in which to enroll the child. These vouchers can also be used for home-schooling expenses. This usually means that the child would not be enrolled in a state school for various reasons. In general, these vouchers are a fair way to give taxpaying parents other financially viable options for education for their children than public school, which just isn't right for some children.
For starters, school vouchers promote competition among schools in the same district and will force them to improve things like overall performance, safety, and teacher to student ratios. In fact, evidence shows that when schools are forced to compete, the schools actually do perform better as a result. For example, in Florida, public schools located near voucher-eligible schools, on average, showed an improvement of 9.3 scale score points on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) as opposed to the gains made by the rest of Florida's public schools (Green and Winters, 6). In addition, the schools that are competing merely for the opportunity to be placed near voucher-eligible schools similarly improved more than other public schools, with an overall improvement of 6.7 points on the FCAT) above other public schools in Florida (Green and Winters, 6). This provides hard evidence of what seems like common sense to begin with: that competition breeds excellence, and that forcing these schools to compete gives them a motivation that is not seen in other incentive methods. So, allowing school vouchers is beneficial to not just parents and children, but the schools themselves. It is a win-win situation for all parties involved.
School vouchers are also beneficial because it allows for parents to take a viable way out of the public-school system, which many are growing weary of due to decreased confidence in the role of the government, as well as due to funding issues. This is especially true for low-income and minority students, or any other children who are currently failing in public schools. Many parents feel that because of these factors, their children are segregated in schools and need more one-on-one learning in order to level the playing field. School vouchers allow for the elimination of what many refer to as paternalism, or the use of authority to restrict freedom based on what they think is best. By giving parents the power of choice in where to send their child, they are ensuring that a child must not simply grin and bear whatever segregation or abuse they are suffering through at their current school. For example, in Utah, thirty-seven percent of Hispanic and African American public-school students do not graduate with a high school diploma (Witt and Mero, 412). For students like this, many in Utah believe the school voucher program is a good idea because they would allow "giving hope and freedom to all students, especially those who struggle under the legacy of past civil rights abuses" (Witt and Mero, 414). While allowing school vouchers will certainly not solve all of these problems, or even the majority of them, it would allow for parents to have a role in the decision-making process, so that they are not entirely helpless when choosing a school for their children. The school voucher system also allows for these schools to improve themselves, so that everyone, even those who do not utilize these school vouchers, can reap the benefits of improved schools. They also remove the tax obligation for many parents, which is a strong incentive for many, especially those who are lower income.
Opponents of the school voucher program cite the reallocation of resources away from public schools and toward private schools as their main concern. In addition, the National Education Association (NEA), which is the largest labor union in America, strongly opposes these vouchers for many reasons. They believe that it would erode educational standards in general by making the education system more like a lottery than anything else, which forces parents to compete for open spots in the voucher programs (Pons, 1). Many in the NEA also feel that allowing a parent to take their child to a religious private school, under state funding, violates the constitution and separation of church and state. Finally, many opponents of the school voucher program believe that giving government money to any education establishment, especially religious ones, will inevitably lead to more government control over those institutions. As the concept of school vouchers becomes more and more popular, these schools, opponents claim, are bound to become more crowded and more government-controlled, to the point where there will be virtually no difference between public and private schools anymore.
While there are arguments for both sides, it seems clear that the use of school vouchers is at least a sound idea, although certainly one that needs some tweaking. Namely, the funding structure of these voucher programs need to be reexamined, as allowing for entirely government-funded private schooling simply brings too many problems, especially once religion becomes involved. Nevertheless, freedom is one of the core tenants that the country was founded on, and the school voucher programs represent that. If parents do not like their public-school options, as many do not, it is more than within their rights to use alternatives in a financially reasonable way.
Greene, Jay P., and Winters, Marcus A. When schools compete: The effects of vouchers on Florida public school achievement. Center for Civic Innovation, Manhattan Institute, 2003. p.6
Pons, M. School vouchers: The emerging track record. National Education Association Publication. 2006. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/16970.htm
Witte, Daniel E. and Mero, Paul T. Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the redemptive Promise of Educational Choice. Sutherland Institute. 2008. p.412-414
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