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School vouchers

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Major Concepts
School vouchers are certificates issued by a government which parents may use to pay for private school for their children. Tax money would then fund all or part of these students' private school education. They may sometimes also be used to reimburse the parents for homeschool expenses.

School choice in Europe[edit]

Sweden introduced a voucher system in 1992, which requires that students using vouchers are accepted on a first-come first-served basis.[1] Denmark has done the same. In the Netherlands, public and private schools have been given financial equity since 1917, which resulted in a de facto voucher system.

The Dutch system is as "voucherized" as you can get, to the extent of covering a majority of the nation's students. It does seem to work without a hitch, but for various reasons, its success has been difficult to export elsewhere.[2] The Swedes, for example, may reconsider their entire approach after a series of recent scandals.[3]

School choice in the US[edit]

Essentially, school vouchers let parents more easily afford to send children to private schools by subsidizing some or all of the costs that would otherwise be paid for by parents.[4] Biased organizations, such as the Heartland Institute have claimed that such policies can reduce the cost of education to the taxpayer, as if this were the most important endpoint,[5] but even this has been disputed by independent analyses[6][7][8] — a universally-applied voucher system would not save tax money.[7][8] Vouchers do not have in effect on what should be the primary endpoint, improving overall academic achievement — overall, private schools that accept vouchers do not perform better than public schools.[7][8] Proponents have argued that competition would force public schools to perform to keep up. Private school students generally perform better on reading and math tests; however, the U.S. Department of Education found that when adjusted for factors such as race and gender, private schools perform about as well as public schools.[9]

Vouchers also come with some significant disadvantages. Most notably school vouchers threaten to undermine the current educational system by putting public and private schools in direct competition, potentially leading to a lack of funding to public schools and a corresponding lower quality education afforded to low income students and minorities.[10] Furthermore these private schools will be less accountable to the government. This means that schools with religious agendas will be supported by voucher programs.[11]

Possibly the biggest problem with this is tax money being used to fund religious education, a big no-no in places such as the United States where separation of church and state is supposed to be a thing. This has already occurred in states that have or had voucher programs such as Florida, where public money was funding schools with educational curricula including creationism.[12][13] It's no surprise, then, that the religious right and their donors are major proponents of "school choice" (read: tax money for religious indoctrination).[14][15] In other words, it's not a shock that schools full of rich white kids with private tutors have better results. "School choice" also can be seen as de facto segregation, especially in The Southern United States.[16]

Supreme Court decisions[edit]

In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld a voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio in the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.[17] This initiated what is known as the "private choice test":

  • The program must have a valid secular purpose,
  • Aid must go to parents and not to the schools,
  • A broad class of beneficiaries must be covered,
  • The program must be neutral with respect to religion, and
  • There must be adequate non-religious options.

However, a number of state supreme courts have ruled against vouchers that would fund religious schools, like Florida,[18] or they have been voted down by referendum such as in California, Michigan,[19] and Utah, of all places.[20]

The voters speak[edit]

In contrast to vouchers that are imposed on the populace by elected representatives who may just be following the will of lobbyists and/or the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), vouchers are consistently unpopular when put on ballots for voters, even in Red states:[21]

  • New York, 1967 (72% against); supported by the Catholic Church
  • Michigan, 1970 (57% against); supported by the Catholic Church
  • Nebraska, 1970 (57% against); supported by the Catholic and Lutheran churches
  • Maryland, 1972 (55% against)
  • Oregon, 1972 (69% against)
  • Idaho, 1972 (53% against)
  • Maryland, 1974 (57% against)
  • Washington, 1975 (61% against)
  • Missouri, 1976 (60% against)
  • Alaska, 1976 (54% against)
  • Michigan, 1978 (74% against); supported by a coalition of churches
  • Washington, D.C., 1981 (89% against); supported by a right-wing anti-tax group
  • California, 1982 (69% against); supported by the Catholic Church
  • Massachusetts, 1982 (62% against); supported by the Catholic Church
  • Massachusetts, 1986 (70% against)
  • Utah, 1988 (70% against)
  • Oregon, 1990 (67% against); supported by the Libertarian Party, then-Vice President Dan Quayle and then-Representative Newt Gingrich
  • Colorado, 1992 (67% against); supported by then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander
  • California, 1993 (70% against); supported by a religious right coalition
  • Washington, 1996 (65% against)
  • Michigan, 2000 (69% against); supported by Dick DeVos (then-CEO of Amway), Betsy DeVos and Senator John McCain
  • California, 2000 (71% against); supported by billionaire venture capitalist Tim DraperWikipedia
  • Utah, 2007 (62% against); supported by ALEC and Patrick M. Byrne
  • Florida, 2012 (55% against)
  • Oklahoma, 2016 (54% against)
  • Arizona, 2018 (65% against);[22] supported by Koch brothers- and Betsy DeVos-affiliated organizations[23]

Despite their uniform unpopularity, legislatures have forced vouchers upon the populace anyway in Washington D.C., Maryland and Florida.[21]

External links[edit]


  1. Swedish Parents Enjoy School Choice, BBC
  2. Private Education Provision and Public Finance: The Netherlands, World Bank
  3. Sweden Introduced School Choice—Then it Got Ugly, Slate
  5. "School Vouchers Are a Cost-Saver for Taxpayers" by James VonderHaar, Heartland Institute (archived from July 9, 2014).
  6. Who Gains, Who Loses? The fiscal impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program by Robert M. Costrell (2009) Education Next, volume 9, no. 1.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Vouchers do not improve student achievement, Stanford researcher finds: Education professor Martin Carnoy analyzed 25 years of research and found that voucher programs do not significantly improve test scores. Carnoy says vouchers distract from proven policies and programs with proven impact on test scores and graduation rates. by Carrie Spector (February 28, 2017) Stanford News.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement: Studies of U.S. and international voucher programs show that the risks to school systems outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates by Martin Carnoy (February 28, 2017) Economic Policy Institute.
  9. Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling, National Center for Education Statistics
  10. Matthew McKnight, "False Choice - How private school vouchers might harm minority students", New Republic.
  11. The Anti-Defamation League doesn't like it.
  12. Creationism and School Vouchers
  13. Blindly Supporting Blind Faith, Science Blogs
  14. Educational Choice and Hooey: School Vouchers Help Religious Schools Not Families, Americans United
  15. Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions
  16. Racial Segregation and the Private/Public School Choice, University of California, Santa Cruz
  17. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris at Findlaw
  18. Florida Supreme Court Blocks School Vouchers, New York Times
  19. Voters in California, Michigan Overwhelmingly Reject School Vouchers, Americans United
  20. Utah Voters Defeat Measure to Create First Statewide Voucher Program, Fox News
  21. 21.0 21.1 The People Have Spoken: Private School Vouchers Have A Long Track Record Of Failure At The Ballot Box by Rob Boston (January 2019) Church & State Magazine.
  22. Arizona Proposition 305, Expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Referendum (2018) Ballotpedia.
  23. Saving Arizona: Far-Right Forces Were Eager To Turn The Grand Canyon State Into A Giant Laboratory For School Vouchers. A Band Of Six Women Had Other Ideas. by Rob Boston (January 2019) Church & State.