School Vouchers Debate

History and Debate of School Vouchers

A school voucher is given to parents by their government to be applied to the costs of tuition at a private school of the parents' choosing in place of attendance at the local state school which the student would normally attend. While educational structures vary widely by country, Chile, Sweden and Hong Kong are all examples of countries that have a working school voucher system. In the United States, school vouchers, also called education vouchers, were first used in the 19th century, but they experienced a resurgence in the Civil Rights era when Southern states allowed them as a way of undermining integration in the public schools and letting students attend so-called "segregation academies" instead.

Both the Reagan and Bush administrations were strongly in favor of vouchers as well. Today, the voucher system does not sanction any kind of discrimination; it simply allows citizens to have some additional control over how the tax dollars they already pay for education are used. Parents are able to spend the portion of their tax that funds education directly by applying it to institutions that may perform better than public schools or provide a specialized context that their children need but that is unavailable through state-funded institutions.

School Voucher Criticism and Debate

While the voucher system has many proponents, several criticisms of it have arisen over the years as well. Critics of the system charge that allowing people to opt out of public education in this way undermines the entire public education system and puts it at risk of losing funding and thereby declining in quality. Proponents argue that the voucher system allows free market competition in education and will inspire all parties to do a better job in order to attract more students. This effect has been proven at the university level. Public school teacher unions have been among the most vocal critics of the education voucher program, saying that it lowers educational standards and puts minority groups at risk.

It also is said to create a system in which there is very little accountability to the taxpayer, since school boards and other elected officials deal only with the public education system and have no input into what private schools teach or how they are run. Others have claimed that when vouchers are applied to religious-based education, this is an unconstitutional use of tax money that potentially violates the separation of church and state. In addition, the amount of the voucher is usually not sufficient to pay the entire private school tuition, thus making it more likely that wealthier families will benefit while poorer ones will not; in general, critics of vouchers often feel that they harm children who are already disadvantaged, increasing the risk that they will not get a good education or go on to get a lucrative job.

Because of the widely varying views on the effects of such a system, the school vouchers debate continues to be a source of much controversy; in fact, it has resulted in lawsuits that have gone all the way to the Supreme Court, who created a test of its constitutionality called the Private Choice Test and removed barriers to further implementation of education vouchers. Political support for vouchers in America remains mixed, with conservatives tending to look on them positively and liberals tending to voice considerable skepticism.

For School Vouchers

Pro
65% of members
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Against School Vouchers

Con
35% of members
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