School vouchers have been a highly debated topic since their inception. Because there are many pros and cons, it is easy to see why many people can fall on differing sides of the debate or even are undecided on the issue itself.
History of School Vouchers
Educational school vouchers are one way of giving parents a choice in where their children are sent to school. Vouchers offer government funding for students to attend private schools. State supported private education existed over a hundred years ago but it wasn’t until 1991 when the first modern voucher program was passed in Wisconsin. And it wasn’t until 2001 that Florida became the first state to give vouchers to students with disabilities.
Today, all 50 states give parents the choice to send their child to a school outside of their zone, but only if they meet certain requirements. However, not all states have private school choice in the form of a voucher program. Those states who do offer vouchers implement them differently.
In the states offering vouchers, students must meet some general qualifications in order to receive them. Today, some common requirements are for students to be:
- from military or foster families
- from rural or low income areas
- from schools with low performance over time
Since their beginning, school vouchers have been a controversial topic. The controversy, using public money to pay for private school attendance. This is a topic that t triggers the hot button for many people. Just like any issue, there are two sides. There are both benefits and disadvantages to the voucher system.
Pros of School Vouchers
- Forces improvement. Milton Friedman, economist and founder of the advocacy group Ed Choice, feels “competitive private enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demands.”
By offering choices where parents can educate their children, it increases the competition. It encourages schools to improve to keep high enrollment rates by not losing students to other schools.
- Equality in education. Students from lower income homes and areas get a chance to go to schools that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Private schools cost to attend. Traditionally only parents who can afford private schools had the choice to send their children to better schools with good reputations. Children who come from lower income homes, don’t get the same option of attending these schools because of a lack of funds. Vouchers equal the playing field by not restricting students to attend a school based on their household income.
- Greater acceptability. According to a Gallup poll, more than half of the parents were dissatisfied with their student’s public education. Private schools often have a better reputation both academically and in character growth. Since private schools rely on tuition funds, it encourages them to out-perform their public school counterparts. . Private schools also have greater flexibility to teach outside of the curriculum standards, including values and character traits as part of a student’s education.
- More diversity. By offering school choice, it creates a greater diversity in the school systems that otherwise are predominantly segregated racially and economically. Students from disadvantaged areas can be integrated into schools that are zoned for the middle and upper class. Thus, stratification is decreased when income doesn’t determine attendance.
Cons of School Vouchers
- Harms the public school system. Voucher systems take money away from the public school system. Faculty and staff need to be paid. Maintenance suffers. . Removing money from public schools also causes budgetary issues. School District budgets rely on student enrollment in order to help fund teacher payroll, building infrastructures, and necessary school programs. . Some feel this redirection of public school funds will do more harm than good to the public education system.
- No accountability. Private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), “private and parochial schools are not required to observe federal nondiscrimination laws even if they receive federal funds through voucher programs.” Public schools, however, are overseen by the government. So they are held to certain rules and regulations. Whereas, private schools are not accountable to anyone but themselves. With no accountability, it is no guarantee that schools will perform to a set standard.
- False sense of equality. Vouchers often do not cover the entire cost of education. Students still incur other costs like books, uniforms, and even partial tuition fees. Low income families who would qualify don’t always utilize the voucher system, stating they still lack funding and resources for transporting their students to the private school. .
- Violates church and state. Public schools, unlike private schools, are required to hold to the Constitution and keep neutral, not mixing church and state. Vouchers are public money redirected by the government to other institutions. Schools accepting vouchers can have a religious affiliation even though they are receiving government aid. Many see this as a direct violation of the First Amendment.
As options in education continue to increase, the debate over school vouchers will likely continue on for years to come.
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