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School vouchers

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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 these students' private school education. They may 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] Such programs have worked out very well elsewhere in the world, and unsurprisingly such policies can reduce the cost of education[5] but at the same time have quite spectacularly failed in other places and 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.[6] Furthermore these private schools will be less accountable to the government. This means that schools with religious agendas will be supported by voucher programs.[7]

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.[8][9] No surprise, then, that the Religious Right and their donors are major proponents of "school choice" (read: tax money for religious indoctrination).[10][11]

Proponents argue 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.[12]

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.[13]

Legal decisions[edit]

In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld a voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio in the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.[14] 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,[15] or they have been voted down by referendum such as in California, Michigan,[16] and Utah, of all places.[17]

External links[edit]

References[edit]