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Vouchers... the ultimate gift card?

Annie Condron

Vouchers... the ultimate gift card?With the year coming to a close, some lucky teachers are getting end of the year gifts and gift cards. After comparing her Panera to his Borders, I started thinking about school vouchers. The debate reminds me of the debate over giving gift cards as gifts.


To me, gift cards always seem like they're less thoughtful than trying to find an amazingly unique gift that a person will like. In the same way, it seems like the easy way out to hand a kid a coupon and let them pick out a good school rather than trying to make the school you're giving them the perfect educational gift.


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I'm also always a little intimated by giving gift cards because it is labeled with the dollar amount. With holiday deals, you can often afford more or better gifts because the value is less quantified. With school vouchers, you come across a similar issue. Since schools/foundations can't give all students a voucher, vouchers can leave them with less money to go around.


On the other hand, you can't go wrong with a gift card. Some gifts, no matter how hard you try, just aren't what the gift-getter wants. At the end of the day, the gift card-getter is responsible for their satisfaction in their gift because they chose it. School vouchers do just that, give parents and students a choice in their school.


In a less metaphoric breakdown, here are the recognized pros and cons of school vouchers. Check them out and vote on your school voucher viewpoint.


What are school vouchers?
School voucher programs provide aid to parents to give them the option to send their children to private school that they could otherwise not afford. Vouchers can come in the form of scholarships, grants or tax credits for families paying private school tuition. They are supported by federal aid or through private organizations. Programs are currently in place in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida, Colorado and Washington D.C.



• Make a difference one student at a time
• Increase competition to encourage improvement in public schools
• Give parents a choice
• Increase diversity in schools
• Freedom of religion equals freedom to religious education


• Hurt the children left behind
• Decrease funding from public schools
• Haven’t improved academic performance
• Private schools have their problems too
• Violate separation of church and state by indirectly fund religious institutions

Making a difference – one student at a time
If we know a particular school or district is failing its students, don’t we have a responsibility to help as many students as we can to get the best education possible while we fix the problem? Of course we want public schools to improve to serve all students, but as we all know, institutional change in any government-run, bureaucratic system is slow-moving at best. Vouchers can provide an immediate solution for children who need it most.


Capitalism in the Classroom
Public schools currently hold a monopoly in the education market. Parents who cannot afford private school have little to no choice in what school their child will attend. In a country that prides itself on competition and free-market as the keys to success, the public school system lacks American ideals. School voucher programs would increase competition between failing public schools and private schools. This competition over students and the accompanied funding will encourage improvement all around.


Parental Choice
In addition, school voucher programs give parents the power of choice and make schools accountable to parents. It is the hope of voucher advocates that empowered parents will also become more involved in other levels of their child’s education, a factor that is critical to the students’ academic success. Tax credit programs also appeal to those parents who send their children to private schools because they will no longer have to pay for their education twice (once through property tax, once through tuition).


Increase Diversity
With a neighborhood-based school system in place, US schools are still largely segregated by income and race. Much of the data used by anti-voucher activists reflects that the socioeconomic environment is the biggest hindrance to student success and achievement. Many voucher students are attending private schools in the same neighborhoods facing the same problems, which may explain the lack of evidenced success. If future voucher programs can be more effective in integrating economic diversity, they have the potential to be much more successful.


Freedom of Religion Equals Freedom of Religious Education
If “rich” parents have the option to provide religious education to their students, why should the government deny that right to parents who can’t afford it? It is absolutely true that religious education in public school infringes on religious freedom by forcing students to participate. In contrast, voucher programs actually enforce religious freedom. Parents can choose a faith-based education without affecting public school programs.


Isn’t that just “Most Children Left Behind”
School voucher supporters seem to be acting under the assumption that public schools are failing because teachers, districts and administrators aren’t motivated to improve. Is the situation that simple? Are we that cynical? Will making public schools fight for students (and the funding that comes with them) really inspire any improvement?


Voucher programs can only help a small number of students, leaving the other students in these “failing” schools in an even worse predicament.


Money used for vouchers will only further deplete tight budgets and make it that even more difficult for schools to recruit good teachers, keep up with 21st century technology and implement new programs.


Studies of the longest running voucher programs (in Milwaukee and Cleveland) showed no significant difference between students who participated in the voucher program and those who did not. Since the voucher programs were initiated, there has also been no notable improvement in the public school system, which theoretically should be motivated to improved based on school competition. In fact, Wisconsin reading scores show that black students from 4th – 8th grade are scoring lower than in any other state. The Wisconsin reading achievement gap between the races is also the worst in the country (according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress study). Cleveland schools showed some improvement in fourth-grade math scores and reading scores, but the shift was comparable to other cities without voucher programs.


Cons of Private Schools
Unlike public schools, private schools has little institutional oversight, often require admissions requirements like entrance exams, interviews, etc. to screen applicants and they are often ill-equipped to handle students with special needs.


“National studies of NAEP tests have confirmed that private and charter schools on average perform little or no better than traditional public schools (and in some cases worse), after taking into account the socioeconomic background of the students.” ~ The Washington Monthly April 2008


Religious Institutions is Unconstitutional
No matter how you package it, school voucher programs give federal funding to religious institutions. The separation of church and state is a cornerstone of American freedom. Blurring the line between the two is a slippery slope. Once we begin down this path, school prayer and teaching creationism are soon to follow.


Where do you weigh in on the school voucher issues?


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