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School Vouchers and Their Role in American Education Essay

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Updated: Aug 29th, 2021

Introduction

The current essay deals with a crucial issue of school vouchers and their role in modern American education. There is no denying the importance of the fact that this issue is regarded as one of the most controversial both by educators, legislators, and parents due to its complex consequences for public and private schools, social and ethnic issues in education. Two basic groups oppose each other on the question of the necessity of maintaining school vouchers. Their positions and views will be thoroughly analyzed in a current essay in order to find both positive and negative sides of their arguments. The current study would not be consistent without putting forward some adequate recommendations which may prove effective in resolving the abovementioned problem.

What is a school voucher?

A school voucher which is also referred to as an education voucher, is a certificate that allows parents to pay for the education of their children at any school they consider to be the most affordable rather than sending them to a public school to which children were initially assigned. The significant development of the School Vouchers system dates back to Reagan’s new policies based on the assumptions of the neoclassical school of economics, particularly the theoretical elaboration of Milton Friedman, who was one of the main proponents of introducing school vouchers to elementary and secondary education.

Not all states use school vouchers. For instance, in Milwaukee, more than 15000 students benefit from using school vouchers, more than $100 million are paid for children to attend schools outside the Public School domain. Religious schools are one of the first to benefit from the school vouchers system. For instance, St. Anthony Catholic School has nearly 970 voucher students, which means that it will receive more public funding.

Now, after we outlined the notion and the modes of school voucher system functioning, it is necessary to discuss the arguments of its proponents and opponents. We will start with the former.

The first pro-argument: School vouchers foster competition between public and private schools and hence result in improving educational outcomes.

As Hoxby’s research proves, the districts where parents had a possibility to send their children to private schools by using their school vouchers saw an increased competition between public and private schools, and students have more successful educational results. Many public schools improve their curricula and syllabus to be competitive. As Rees (1999) claims ‘…school choice programs have improved overall student academic achievement in public schools. Evidently, competition is good for learning…When public schools are faced with the possibility of large student transfers, and a corresponding loss of funding, they have shown a willingness to make improvements both in how and what they teach’. (p. 83).

School vouchers support low-income students.

According to this viewpoint, school vouchers allow children from low-income families to attend private schools, which give good education, which is a crucial precondition for a successful carrier in the future. For instance, Milton Friedman, a famous supporter of school vouchers, claims that poor people have incentives to support the voucher system as they commonly attend poor-standard schools (Friedman, 1955). As Hayek (1978) argues, ‘But with respect to the great majority of the population, it would undoubtedly be possible to leave the organization and management of education entirely to private efforts, with the government providing merely the basic finance and ensuring a minimum standard for all schools where the vouchers could be spent’ (p.133).

There are many influential supporters of the school vouchers system among businessmen and politicians. For instance, presidential candidate McCain argued that ‘school choice stimulates improvement and creates expanded opportunities for our children to get a quality education (2001). Devins (2001) claims that the majority of arguments against the school voucher system are ungrounded as he suggests that ethnic segregation at schools does not result from school vouchers system: ‘With courts increasingly giving up on mandatory busing, racial isolation in public schools is a far more severe problem today than it was twenty years ago. For this reason, vouchers are often seen (by African Americans and others) as a way to improve the lives of minority students in a world without court-ordered desegregation’ (p.925).

As we see, the basic arguments for school vouchers seem to be properly motivated, but in fact, they have many essential drawbacks notices by opponents.

Arguments against school vouchers system

The main critiques of the voucher system claim that it is possible to choose between public schools even without the voucher system. Based on statistical data, they claim those arguments suggesting that private schools give better educational results are baseless.

The first basic argument against vouchers is that it weakens public schools attended by the majority of students but not necessarily giving enough money for people who want to attend private schools (Good, 2000). They also claim that school vouchers contribute to the trend of increasing tuition costs as a result of the demand for educational services. Moreover, introducing school vouchers provides premises for the flight from urban schools where non-white students are prevailing. In many districts, the taxes paid for school vouchers are higher than funds needed to maintain public schools, which results in significant educational imbalances. Besides this, it is evident that reacting to the booming number of students trying to attend private schools, they will become more selective on the issues of race, class, religion, excluding students with considerable disabilities and disciplinary problems. So public schools would have to accept all the students precluded from attending private school, which further undermines their competitiveness. All this in total is likely to result in the complete abolition of universal education and its transformation into a business where racial and ethnic segregation will take the form of income gaps.

Another group of critiques suggests that school vouchers are against laws that prohibit the state’s support for any religious institutions. According to this position, school vouchers subsidize those religious parents who do not want their children to study at public schools. Hence in this way state violates the basic norms of secular society and reduces the competitiveness of public schools by lowering their funding.

For instance, an educational program that was launched in Cleveland in 1995 was challenged in a court trial on the ground that it significantly violated federal and state principles of state and church separation (Doerr et al., 1996). This case was grounded on well-documented facts that the majority of school voucher users were students attending Catholic schools.

The most tendentious critiques of the school voucher system are libertarians who strictly oppose any state intervention into the educational system and claim that it is destructive. As Bolick (1998) argues, ‘some libertarians fear, however, that school vouchers will not expand freedom, but will instead turn the private schools that serve roughly 11 percent of America’s youngsters into clones of failed government schools’ (p. 47).

Compromise position

As we could see, there exist strict proponents and opponents of the vouchers system, but among different standpoints, one can be claimed to seek a certain compromise. For instance, some educators and legislators support school vouchers only if the education they allow is based on the standard tests. The main reason for this point is that if schools do not use standardized tests, then they will enroll students with a lower level to increase the school’s popularity and attract new students.

Assessing all these arguments, we think that the following conditions should be met to make school vouchers effective. Our recommendations are based on a careful assessment of both positive and negative components of the school voucher system.

First of all, the introduction of a school voucher system should be destructive to the system of public education. Those states and districts which introduce this system should stipulate that funding of public schools will stay on the same level so as students had a possibility to choose not only private but public schools.

Secondly, it is urgently needed to create such conditions that school vouchers do not result in social and racial segregation of public school students, which requires guaranteeing the rights of all people for free and qualitative education.

If the school voucher system continues to function the same way as it is now, the consequences for the civil and individual rights of non-white students would be negative.

Thirdly, it should be guaranteed that school vouchers benefited all students but not only have those whose parents choose to be sent to religious school. Education should be universal and secular without any discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and religion unless this is done, the American educational system risks transforming into market commodity providing partial education only for merit.

References

Bolick, Clint. ‘Blocking the Exits: Libertarian Opposition to School Vouchers Is an Attack on Freedom’. Policy Review, No. 89, 1998.

Doerr, Edd., Menendez, Albert J., Swomley, John M. The Case against School Vouchers. Prometheus Books, 1996.

Devins, Neal. ‘Social Meaning and School Vouchers’. William and Mary Law Review 42.3 (2001): 919-937.

Friedman, Milton. The role of government in education. Rutgers University Press, 1955

Good, Thomas L., and Jennifer S. Braden. The Great School Debate Choice, Vouchers, and Charters. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000.

Hayek, Friedrich. A. The Constitution of Liberty. University Of Chicago Press, 1978.

‘McCain supports final elementary secondary education bill’, 2001.

Rees, Nina Shokraii. Public School Benefits of Private School Vouchers. Policy Review, 1999.

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IvyPanda. "School Vouchers and Their Role in American Education." August 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/school-vouchers-and-their-role-in-american-education/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "School Vouchers and Their Role in American Education." August 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/school-vouchers-and-their-role-in-american-education/.

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