School Vouchers – Top 4 Pros and Cons
This topic was archived on June 23, 2023. A reconsideration of the topic is possible in the future.
According to EdChoice, in the 2018-2019 school year, 18 states and DC had one or more voucher programs: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. At least 188,424 students received vouchers that school year. 
Though two state voucher programs have existed since the 19th century–Vermont (1869) and Main (1873)–the current debate began with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, instituted in 1990. 
In 2002, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship Program in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The ruling held that the voucher program did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, even if vouchers were used for religious schools. 
Should States Have School Voucher Programs?
Vouchers allow parents to choose their child’s education.
Parents pay taxes for education and should be able to use those tax dollars to educate their children however and at whichever school they want.
Chuck Weisenbach, Principal of Roncalli High, a private high school in Indianapolis, stated. “It is not the government’s responsibility to tell me where to educate my children… That’s not only my right, it’s my duty. And I shouldn’t have the government telling me based on some random, geographic location that I have to go to this public high school.” 
Vouchers also allow parents to choose a school that best fits a child’s religious, cultural, or racial background, allowing that child to perform better in school, at home, and in their community. Read More
School vouchers improve education in general by making public schools compete with private schools for students in a free market.
Public schools will have to offer a better education and safer spaces for learning, and be accountable to parents’ and students’ needs in order to compete with the private schools.
Lennie Jarratt, Project Manager for School Reform at the Heartland Institute, stated, “free markets offer a much better way to hold educational institutions accountable for their failures. Under this model, inadequate schools lose money or are forced to close after consistently failing to perform… Why should we reward terrible schools with an indefinite stream of tax dollars?” 
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, PhD, a champion of the free market, argued for school vouchers in 1955, stating vouchers would result in “great widening in the educational opportunities open to our children.” Read More
School vouchers allow school districts to overcome racial and other segregations.
Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration, stated, “Empirical evidence finds school-choice programs lead to more integrated schools than their public-school counterparts.” 
School vouchers allow lower-income parents to avoid sending a child to a bad school, a school overwhelmed with gang violence, or a school that lacks racial diversity. A study of Louisiana’s voucher program found that the program reduced racial segregation, a feat in a state with 34 school districts under federal desegregation orders. 
Many families use vouchers to avoid the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the phenomenon in which children of color are poorly educated, subjected to racist treatment, and treated like criminals in schools often ruled by gangs.  These children deserve better, and vouchers empower students to overcome racial and other disparities in their communities.Read More
School vouchers offer students in failing schools access to a better education.
Parents who cannot afford homes in neighborhoods with great school districts are often doomed to send their kids to bad schools with less funding, fewer good teachers, and fewer opportunities for students to excel. 
The DC voucher program, the only federally-funded school voucher program in the country, increased students’ graduation rates by 21% overall and 28% for female voucher students.  Parents of DC voucher recipients reported high levels of satisfaction, felt the school was safer than their public school option, and were more likely to give the school an A or B grade. 
EdChoice, an education nonprofit, stated, “The empirical evidence shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools… and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.” Read More
Tax dollars are intended for the better secular education of all children, not the private religious education of a few.
Using public funds to subsidize religious schools violates the separation of church and state. Of the 14 states with school voucher programs, 11 allow vouchers to be used at religious schools (Maine and Vermont do not). 
According to an EdChoice survey of parents who use vouchers, the number one reason parents chose to use vouchers was “religious environment/instruction.” Read More
School vouchers funnel money away from already-struggling public schools and children and redistribute tax dollars to private schools and middle-class children.
In Indiana the voucher program now costs the state approximately $50 million more in state money going to education costs than originally budgeted.  One third of Indiana voucher students were not considered low-income, and, increasingly, the voucher students are from suburban, middle class families who already have access to good public schools.  Only 1% of Indiana voucher students were leaving failing schools. 
Families who have the means to send their children to private schools should be responsible for the resulting bills instead of taking money from public school kids.Read More
School vouchers fail to accommodate and support disabled and special-needs students.
Public schools are required by law to offer a wide range of free services to students who need extra or enhanced instruction, special services or equipment, or other educational accommodations. Private schools do not have those same requirements.
For example, they do not have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires things such as wheelchair ramps, note-takers, and sign-language interpreters. 
Private schools also don’t have to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public schools provide all children with an “ambitious” educational program, rather than the bare minimum.  Private schools do not have to accept children with special needs, may require extra fees (billed to the parents) for services, and are under no obligation to follow Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Read More
School vouchers do not improve students’ academic performance.
A 2016 study found “strong and consistent evidence” that school voucher students in Louisiana attending private schools “performed significantly worse in math.”  Another study of Louisiana’s program found attendance at a voucher-eligible private school increased the likelihood of a child failing math by 50%, and “negative and large” effects on reading, science, and social studies. 
In Milwaukee, researchers found that students using vouchers to attend private schools fared “no better academically than their public school peers.” 
In Indianapolis, students who left public schools to attend private Catholic schools with vouchers showed “no benefit” in reading skills, while suffering “moderate and statistically significant average annual losses” in math, while those same students had been improving in public schools. Read More
1. Should states provide voucher programs or increase funding to public schools? Consider both sides but choose one to argue in favor of.
2. Should states allow parents to use vouchers to send children to religiously affiliated schools? Why or why not?
3. Do school vouchers allow children to succeed in better educational environments or leave behind other children to fail in floundering public schools? Explain your answer.
1. Analyze the pro position of EdChoice.
2. Explore which states have vouchers and other “school choice” programs with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
3. Consider the argument from Bayliss Fiddiman and Jessica Yin that school vouchers are a “danger” to civil rights.
4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.