Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 6/6.3.2

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The Heat is On: School Vouchers


Teacher and student‎

"Education is the means to the answer to all questions."
-William Allin-

Introduction:History of School Vouchers in America

For years, the debate over private vs. public education has been brewing in American society. Multiple politicians and Americans feel that low-income families are at a disadvantage when it comes to education. Since some parents are unable to afford the payments needed to send their children to private school, they rely on public schools and, on occasion, have felt this hinders their child's education. This hot debate has led to various outcomes, one of the most prominent being educational vouchers.

School vouchers are money grants issed by the state, that allow students to attend private school when they would otherwise have to attend public school. Vouchers first appeared in law in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1990, due to demand from Governor Tommy Thompson. Vouchers in Milwaukee were only issued in participating public and private schools and were determined by family income as to how much money a student would receive. Although other programs had been discussed before, Milwaukee was the first to establish it into society. Today, more than 10,000 students are benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program. Similar programs have been founded in various other states, such as Florida and Utah, since 1990. (Peterson, 2003).

With the increase of school voucher programs in the United States, another controversy has been "stoking" the fire. Do educational vouchers work? In a recent article published by Education Week, 42% of adults in America were in favor of school vouchers while 56% oppose them(Education Week, 2007). The clear division in opinion should be evaluated in order to concisely and clearly reach a solution. As Kirk Jowers stated on the issue,” My biggest fear is that people will make up their minds on 30-second ads,” therefore calling an understanding of both sides(Norlen, 2007, p. 1).

The Debate


"Pass," 52% of Americans proclaim in concern to school voucher programs(Education Week, 2007). American opponents are looking at educational vouchers as a way to decrease public school education (McCarthy, 2006). With a strong footing, stated below, opponents are holding their ground and trying to make progress on this running debate.

• Vouchers give government funding to religious instituitons(Peterson. P, 2003). This, in return, creates an "entanglement" between church and state. Under the Establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution, there is to be no state religion. With school vouchers, opponent feel this boundary will become to blurry (McCarthy, 2006)
• Studies have shown that there is no base for comparison between public and private schools. In the center is a “black box” of unknown information, therefore making it hard for the voucher program to be proven effective. This is created when no clear areas have been established as a reason for "improvement" from the public to the private sector (Wolf, 2006, p. 1).
• “Blaine Amendments” in 37 states outlaw the giving of tax income to any religious institution. These amendments have been a large reason why many states have not instituted voucher programs, allowing opponets to have a law to draw from(Peterson, 2003, p 8-9).
• The use of vouchers will take money out of the public school systems (Norlen, 2007). By taking students away from the public sector, the tax money granted through vouchers will be dispersed to private schools. In return, limiting the resources available to these schools.
• The public school systems function well already and do not need reform in the name of school vouchers (Kolbert, 2001).

Opponents are using all these aspects to attack the view of proponents. Through various research studies, no evidence has been found to conclude that private institutions are better than public. This was shown in an experiment conducted by Patrick Wolf, where no real conclusions were drawn on whether voucher granted students received a better education at private institutions. The students were tested on achievement before and after receiving a private school education (Wolf, 2006). With no real evidence of change and effectiveness, the opponents of school vouchers are holding their ground.


"Hands up" for educational vouchers! In a study conducted by the Center for Educational Reform, 67% of Americans felt that laws should be enacted to allow parents to take their children out of “failing” public schools and decide which school they attend. (Kolbert, 2001). With strong research, such as this, proponents of vouchers are speaking out. Research gathered by Kathryn Kolbert, Education Week, and T. Parry give a basic platform of the proponents’ stance as follows;

• Vouchers decrease class size. By dispersing students throughout schools, class sizes are reduced and there is a smaller teacher to student ratio (Education Week, 2007).
• Competition between public and private schools is implemented. Both school systems want to gain the support of the voucher so they will increase their resources in order to provide a better curriculum and atmosphere to attract students.(Parry, 1997)

Utah School Voucher Campaign

• Issuing vouchers, allows the parents to be the consumer for their child, therefore, getting them more involved in their educational success. (Kolbert, 2001)
• By allowing low-income families to send their children to private school, Brown vs. the Board of Education will be upheld, allowing every child to have an equal educational career. (Kolbert,2001)
• Voucher programs will put more money back into public school systems since vouchers are issued on income. Since not all of the public school tuition is granted through the voucher the excess will be given back to public schools (Norlen, 2007).

With politicians and economist behind them, proponents of the school voucher system have created a platform for debate.

Court decisions also have helped proponents establish their case. In 1998, a case was brought to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in which charges were filed against the Milwaukee voucher system claiming it broke the Establishment Clause under the U.S. Constitution . It was ruled that giving the option to the parents allowing them to choose a private religious institution for their child was voluntary and constitutional. (Kolbert, 2001, p. 18-19) Later in Zelman vs. Simmons Harris the same claim was addressed in the United States Supreme Court with similar results (Peterson, 2003, p. 1). The grounds established from these court cases gives proponents a strong angle on the debate of educational vouchers.


The battle will continue. There is no boundary on who feels for the issue. Teachers, parents, and politicians are divided on all aspects of the debate. Although politicians are seeking to find an answer to the gap in the education system between the public and private sector, the split over school vouchers is proof that work still needs to be done. In dealing with the issue on school vouchers, there is no wrong or right answer. With more research and compromise, there is hope that one day all students will be able to receive a proper and productive education.

Think Again:Quiz

Multiple Choice

1. Through the proponent's view, why is competition between public and private school systems positive?

A)Creates a place for both school systems to improve
B)Teachers will like each other more
C)The flaws in public schools will be revealed
D)Their will be a better rivaly for school sports

2. The outcome of the Zelmann vs. Simmons Harris Supreme Court case helped conclude that the Establishment clause was upheld, under what circumstance?

A)Adhesion to the separation of church and state is not upheld
B)Competition between schools is natural and constitutional
C)Money should only be given to low-income families to help with education
D)Parents have the option of sending their child to a private school

3. When Kirk Jowers stated,” My biggest fear is that people will make up their minds on 30-second ads,” what was his main concern?

A)Americans not seeing both sides of the issue
B)Americans who read information quickly
C)Children that jump to conclusions about learning
D)Politicians that make ads long and unreadable

4. "Blaine" amendments prevent state governmental funding to private institutions. These amendments help the opponent's claim under what condition?

A)Funding can be provided given permission
B)Parents are able to pick their child's school system
C)States can not lawfully implement school vouchers
D)The United States government is able to prevent voucer programs

5. Proponents feel through educational voucher programs more money will be put into the public sector. How will this money contribute to education?

A)Brown v. the Board of Education is upheld 
B)Public schools will lose students and have no use for extra funding
C)Resources will increase and educational currriculum will improve
D)Student to teacher ratios will increase with income

Personal Response

Take a stance on the debate over school vouchers. Provide a detailed argument and explain how your decision may effect your teaching career.

Personal View: Example

The debate over school vouchers is hard to predict. Being a future teacher and tax payer, I take the view of the opponents. In today's society there are multiple factors which increase the demand for private schools. Without these factors, public education would improve greatly. The lack of research available to provide a claim for vouchers is more reason to increase public school funding which will later improve their educational resources. It is important to me as a future teacher to better the school systems as they are now rather than take the students away. Not everyone is able to afford private schools with grants and it is my job to help all children not just a hand full that are forced into public education.


Education Week (December 6, 2007). Vouchers. Retrieved January 31, 2008, from

Kolbert, K. (2001). Justice Talking from NPR (Z. Mettger, Ed.). New York, NY: The News Press.

McCarthy, M. (2006). The Legality of School Vouchers: Round Two. Journal of School Choice, 1(3), 17. Retrieved February 17, 2008, from Education Research Complete database.

Norlen, C. (September 7, 2007). Hot Debate on School Vouchers at Kinckley. Retrieved January 31, 2008, from

Parry, T. (1997). Theory meets reality in the education voucher debate: Some…Education Economics, 5(3), 307. Retrieved January 31, 2008, from Education Research Complete Database.

Peterson, P.E. (Ed.). (2003). The Future of School Choice.Staford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

Wolf, P., & Hoople, D. (2006). Looking Inside the Black Box: What School Factors Explain Voucher Gains in Washington DC?. PJE.Peabody Journal of Education, 81 (1), 7-26. Retrieved January 31, 2008, from Education Research Complete database.

Answers to Quiz[edit]


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