The simplest definition of school vouchers is that they are generally state-funded money or scholarships that give opportunities for students to choose from various private schools. In most cases, funding for school vouchers comes from our taxes resulting in less tax money for our public schools. However, as we will be hearing of shortly, this funding scenario is not always the case. Under the new Trump administration arguments will be made that the vouchers will not touch our tax base. We must be weary of this promise especially when we reflect on what occurred to public schools in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans went almost all private charter resulting in their public schools going downhill in educational quality and in student enrollment. Is that what we want?
Let’s take a close look first at the history of government support in education. The movement began in 1955 after economist Milton Friedman’s paper: “The Role of Government in Education”. This paper influenced efforts to use public dollars to pay private school tuition in hopes that competition among schools will lead to increased student achievement and decreased education costs. In 2001, Florida enacted the John M. McKay Scholarships Program for Students with Disabilities. We became the first state to offer private school vouchers to students with disabilities. Later, under Jim Hamilton, we would open a public charter school for those with disabilities plus those in a low–income area. Later in 2011, Indiana created the nation’s first state-wide school voucher program for low income students.
Arguments for Private School Vouchers:
Private schools will be in competition to gain “customers”. In so doing, they will be forced to either improve or risk losing students and the funding tied to those students. Private schools, by their simplistic accountability system, will have more flexibility in staffing, budgeting, curriculum, and academic standards than public schools. Thus, we are dealing with a true market economy where private school franchises will be appearing and competing with each other.
Arguments against Private School Vouchers:
The central argument is that shifting a handful of students from a public school into private schools will not decrease what the public school must pay for teachers and facilities. However, funding for those costs will decrease as students leave. Also there is the important question and concern of how accountable are these “new” types of schools and to who they are accountable to. Then there is the argument that government incentives to attend private religious schools are violating the separate of church and states.
What the Research Says:
When voucher students are compared to public school students, voucher recipients have performed at the same level on reading and math assessments. (Study Center on Education Policy’s review.) However, there are gains made among low income and minority students who receive vouchers. Other research (Milwaukee and Racine County Parental Choice Programs) found a slight improvement in student graduation from high school than their public school counterparts.
Data is still in question since many researchers say improvements may have come from individual school reforms vs. being just being a voucher funded school.
As a policy maker I must make sure our Hillsborough County Public School District has the resources to adequately educate every child. I will question that vouchers will weaken our existing School Choice programs with less funds due to tax money paying for these vouchers; be it on State and/or Federal level.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Public Schools have developed “School Choice” programs which serve the needs of all student demographics including those of low income and/or disabilities, plus the many intellectual and physical levels. In a nutshell; many of these Choice schools are diverse in so many ways that the need for “private schools” is easily matched with the “School Choice” program we offer.