This year’s Supreme Court docket includes the controversial school voucher question. The Court has decided to rule on the constitutionality of a Cleveland Ohio program that helps parents pay for children’s tuition. This program makes public funds available to be used as a parent’s discretion. President Bush has voiced a favorable opinion concerning the voucher system because it aids religion indirectly. Bush maintains that although the voucher system is controversial it is not a violation of the boundary between church and state.
There’s no denying that the most controversial part of President George W. Bush’s education reform is the creation of a voucher system. Newspaper columnists and television pundits testify to the bitter battle. On the surface, a voucher system seems simple enough: children who attend failing schools would be given a “voucher” that would have a monetary value that could be used to pay for tuition at a different public school, private school, or charter school.
While the concept may be simple, it’s not an easy sell. Politicians, principals, teachers, and parents are engaged in a debate over the pros and cons of the program. Some claim they would give children the opportunity to rise above failing schools to attend schools where they can learn, while others claim they will damage our current public school system. Those who are against the creation of a voucher system question who would receive the benefits and the effects to schools that would be abandoned by children.
The first criticism opponents of a voucher system make is that wealthy Caucasian children would be the only ones to see the benefits. They claim the amount of money awarded to someone who would receive a voucher would not be enough to attend a different school. In effect, a voucher would be useless because it wouldn’t be able to pay for a child to attend another school without the help of his or her parents. Consequently, poor minority children who live in the inner city wouldn’t benefit from vouchers. This would make vouchers useful only for rich white children who probably don’t need to transfer schools anyway.
Another claim is that students who receive vouchers would leave public schools – draining those schools of much-needed funding. When students receive vouchers, they will leave their public schools for private schools, which would take away funding from public schools. The results would be an even worse education for those not taking advantage of vouchers. In essence, the funding and quality of education for public school would deteriorate.
These might seem like convincing reasons to abandon the idea of a voucher system, but there is another side to the story. Even with the criticism against vouchers, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that a voucher system would benefit all students. For this reason, a voucher system should be created because it would motivate schools that are doing poorly and improve the education of minority students.
Many people are surprised to hear that a voucher system would actually improve public schools. The threat of having a voucher system would motivate schools to improve because they wouldn’t want to lose students to other schools. This has been named the “voucher effect.” Schools realize that they would lose funding if their students transfer to different schools with help from vouchers.
On February 21, 2001,
Jessica L. Sandham of Education Week explained the “voucher effect.” She said that “Florida schools that faced the threat of vouchers if they failed to raise their students’ scores made achievement gains on state tests that surpassed those of other schools…” She went on to explain that the “voucher effect” “… motivated those low-performing schools to make greater gains on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test…” This discredits the argument that vouchers would hurt schools because they would take children away from public schools – the reality is that they would help public schools because they would impose a motivation to improve performance.
The Education Week article goes on to say that “…Jay P. Green, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a research associate at Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance…” claims that “Just having an accountability system in place, a system in which performance is measured, that alone appeared to improve performance across the state…” Jay P. Green continues, “But there was an extra motivation that existed among schools that faced the prospect of vouchers.” This motivation is directly influencing schools to improve. The fact of the matter is that a voucher system would improve public school performance by creating an accountability system.
Another reason a voucher system should be formed is because those who need help the most, poor minority children, are the ones who would receive help. Jeanne M. Powers and Peter W. Cookson; Jr. write in The Politics of Schools Choice Research: Fact, Fiction, and Statistics that “In many of the choice programs… 50% or more of the participants are minority students, which is not surprising given the demographics of the inner cities…” If this is true, then the argument that says only rich white children would be able to take advantage of vouchers is not true – research data shows that minority children are the ones who receive the most help from vouchers. But this means little unless vouchers actually improve education for children. Powers and Cookson go on to say that, “… studies suggest that choice students are outperforming their public school peers. For example, Beales and Wahl (1995) report that, on average, students participating in the Milwaukee PAVE program [, which is a voucher study,] score higher on achievement tests than Milwaukee public school students.”
It is clear after reading this that vouchers do, in fact, help student performance. Considering that in this test more than 50% of the students who received vouchers were minorities and that those who used vouchers outperformed their public school peers, it is only fair to say that a voucher system should be created.
To further strengthen the argument for vouchers, Power and Cookson go on to say that “…participation in a selective multilingual public school choice program in San Antonio had a positive effect on students’ math and reading scores after controlling for family background, prior test scores, and parental education expectations.” This evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that poor minority students would be positively influenced by a voucher system; the only proper conclusion one can reach after this information is to support the creation of a voucher system. Obviously, the critics of a voucher system continue to argue their case. However, when one objectively looks at the results and studies, one will find that a voucher system would greatly benefit the children of America. Not only would public schools improve because an accountability system would be created, but also those who need the most help would benefit – poor minority children. Both these reasons should make the decisions clear, yet there is still skepticism. So two questions must be asked: are we going to leave children chained to failing schools? Or are we going to give children the opportunity to break free of the chains and set them loose in an environment where they can learn?
Works Cited – MLA
Cookson, Peter W., Powers, Jeanne M. “The Politics of School Choice Research:
Fact, Fiction, and Statistics.” Educational Policy 13 (1999): 104-120.
Sandham, Jessica L. “Study Fins ‘Voucher Effect’ in Fla. Test Gains.” Education Week 20 (2001): 12,15.
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