on School Vouchers Al Richardson
August 31, 1998 --
A. BACKGROUND: School vouchers represent a radical way of
funding public education. Rather than giving money
directly to schools, the state would give each school-age
student an educational voucher that would be accepted at
any private or public school. Tuition voucher schemes may
have other names -- such as parental choice, opportunity
scholarships, or educational tax credits.
In Wisconsin, a
district court in 1997 struck down the provisions of the
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that issued vouchers to
parents for paying their children's tuition at religious
schools. A state Court of Appeals agreed with that
decision, citing the Wisconsin Constitution's prohibition
on taxpayer funding of religious instruction. (The
Pennsylvania Constitution contains similar prohibitions,
Art. III, Secs. 15, 29 and 30.)
Wisconsin's Supreme Court reversed the lower court, in a
decision that strikes at the heart of the First
Amendment, distorts the language of the state
constitution, and ignores all prior court rulings on
public funding of religion. The June decision is being
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier this year,
the Southeast Delco School District in Pennsylvania
approved voucher subsidies for private religious schools.
That plan is now being challenged in the Court of Common
Pleas, Delaware County (Giacomucci v. Southeast Delco
B. WHO'S BEHIND
THE SCHOOL VOUCHER MOVEMENT, AND WHY
"follows the money," most tuition voucher
initiatives will lead back to one of these three groups:
radical religious right who is committed to
"replacing public education by the year
2000," because it believes the purpose of
education should be indoctrination, not
preparation of children to think for themselves.
of parochial and private schools, who have a
vested interest in obtaining taxpayers' money to
subsidize their schools. Not all private school
operators favor vouchers -- many realize that
government money brings government regulations.
Libertarian Party who is committed by ideology to
eliminating public education.
ARGUMENTS FOR SCHOOL VOUCHERS ARE UNSOUND
education is failing." Public schools
certainly need improving; however, the situation
is hardly as bad as critics portray it. Public
school performance varies greatly from district
to district and from school to school.
schools are academically superior." Surveys
show that most private school students do not
score much higher on standardized tests than
pupils in public schools. According to Money
magazine, private schools rank no better
scholastically than comparable public schools.
schools can operate at less cost." Public
schools must take every child and therefore have
the expenses of programs for physically,
emotionally and mentally challenged students,
while private schools can pick and choose whom
they admit and keep.
will improve public education through
competition." Additional voucher money,
combined with the ability to choose more gifted
or less disruptive students, would create an
uneven playing field favoring private schools.
How can public education be competitive in that
situation? Tuition vouchers produce vendor
choice, not consumer choice. If public education
were failing, vouchers would abet, not reverse,
will help inner-city youth escape failing public
schools." A Harvard study, looking at
Wisconsin, concluded that school choice programs
leave city kids worse off. An African-American
pastor commented on C-SPAN, "Why do you
think all those middle-class kids are going to
private schools? To get away from inner-city
kids!" Since vouchers don't cover the full
tuition and transportation to "good"
private schools, the poor will be left behind in
worsening public schools. In Wisconsin, vouchers
created greater segregation, because minorities
tended to go to all-Latino or
all-African-American schools -- which explains
why the Milwaukee NAACP opposed vouchers.
who send their children to private schools pay
double school taxes." In reality, private
school tuition is voluntary and is not a tax.
are the best way to improve public schools."
To improve public education, failing schools
should be fixed, not gutted. Transferring public
money to private schools means less resources for
public schools. Since most private schools are
run by religious groups dedicated to promoting
their own faiths, vouchers mean the public
treasury would be used to support sectarian
schools -- a clear violation of both the U.S. and
school voucher plan is not good public policy for
America. We don't need to subsidize and encourage
divisiveness in our society by allowing the private
school lobby greater access to the public purse, whether
directly or indirectly.
President, Northwest Pennsylvania Chapter of Americans
United for Separation of Chuch and State.