Multicultural Vocational Education for a Pluralistic Society
EDS 114, Summer 2000
August 18, 2000
The concept of educational vouchers was brought to public attention several decades ago with Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who promoted it as a technique to improve the educational system (US News and World Report, 1998, p.25). The voucher plan, although differing across the country, generally intends to improve the schooling opportunities available to the minorities and the poor by increasing their ability to enter private schools while simultaneously encouraging the building of new schools outside the current bureaucratic structure. Currently, public schools are supported by a combination of taxes collected by state and local governments. The voucher plan turns this system upside down by continuing to collect the taxes, but then immediately distributing them completely to parents to decide which school should be funded. It creates a controlled market in which schools compete for students and students enroll in schools that best accommodate their needs. The vouchers would more or less be equal to the current expense level per pupil in public schools. Generally school vouchers are supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Needless to say, the voucher has become a significant source of debate.
The Republican Party and other advocates of the plan argue that vouchers free disadvantaged students from flunking public schools and that they also spur public schools to improve by creating competition for students. In the June of 1998, a poll conducted by the Organization and Phi Delta Kappa, a professional education association, showed that 51% of Americans favor vouchers while only 45% oppose them (Majority, 1998,p.857), “It is public school’s moral culture and not merely a concern with academic quality that underlies the controversy over subsidization of nonpublic schools. If public schools became first-rate academically, there would still be a demand for private schools”(Hanus, 1997, p.30). Supporters declare that as long as the tuition voucher belongs to the parent, it is no business of the state to which schools the voucher goes. Comparing the vouchers to food stamps, which do not require regulations on grocery stores, they argue that the school vouchers would not carry with them the regulations which have made public schools less effective. The Democratic Party and opposers of the plan challenge that vouchers siphon resources from the public school system, “The deregulation of the public school system through the widespread use of school vouchers would lead to an elementary and secondary school system that is fragmented, inefficient, and inherently unequal”( Hanus, 1997, p.30). They argue the fact that since there are roughly 4.9 million students in nonpublic schools and since the average cost for each of
these students is around $5,500, the total cost of the voucher money would be in the vicinity of $26.95 billion per year. In addition to this, the opponents of the plan contend that the average transportation costs would increase by approximately $1.5 million (Doerr, 1995). Antagonists of vouchers also point to a study conducted by Money magazine. The results of this research concluded that, “Students who attend the best public schools outperform most private school students. The best public schools offer a more challenging curriculum than most private schools. Public school class sizes are no larger than in most private school” (Doerr, 1995).
Vouchers have been approved in the cities of Milwaukee and Cleveland, and in the state of Florida. In Milwaukee, the children that participated in this voucher program had to have been from relatively impoverished families, and only non-religous schools could participate. The money, which was roughly $2,500 per student annually, went directly to the participating schools. In the fall of 1998, 6,200 students attended 57 religious schools and 30 secular private schools with the aid of these vouchers(US News and World Report, 1998, p.25). In Cleveland, the study commissioned by the Ohio Department of Education measured the performance of a sample of third graders over eight months. The results found that voucher recipients in private schools haven’t done any better academically than their public-school counterparts. Despite the intensity of this debate, there is no conclusive evidence on the academic impact of school vouchers.
The decision of school vouchers could be further reaching than they appear. “Business leaders wonder how their companies will be able to keep up if their employees are not better educated. Parents worry about the moral and economic future of their children. Many independent schools believe they deserve some of the support given to public schools”(Skillen,1993) Vouchers have emerged as a possible answer to satisfy the needs and desires of all the influenced persons; however, they are one of the most controversial issues in education. The final resolution of this question will effect the lives of countless generations to come.
The American school system cries for reform and school vouchers seems to be an auspicious solution. The voucher plan would open options to all students and offer the less affluent households learning opportunities that would only be available to the privileged children. Some of the nation’s most prominent figures favor the idea of vouchers. George Bush Sr. stresses the need to “extend school choice to all schools that serve the public regardless of who administrates them”(Shapiro,1990, p.63). Lamar Alexander speaks of the plan as unleashing the marketplace powers that would help to make all schools sounder. The number of Americans that accept the idea of school vouchers is growing each year according to the Organization and Phi Delta Kappa polls. The rise of support is not unexpected, because the ability to offer our children an improved system of learning over todays often inadequate choices in the local public school drives a parent to seek alternative schools. “If some publicly run school fails to compete successfully, it would go out of business. A brutal system perhaps, but one guaranteed to shake the torpor out of American education” (Shapiro, 1990 p.70). The concept of vouchers is very controversial so the only way to make a valid point is with evidence of previous experiments.
There are only two cities with publicly funded voucher programs. The first city is Milwaukee where the experience suggests that on average “providing vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools could help increase the mathematical achievement of those students who participate”(Rouse,1998, p.594). The other city, Cleveland, found that with the use of vouchers, many more parents participated in the activities of the school. These facts are not anything significant, however, if only one lesson emerges from these efforts, it is that future reforms of this sort should anticipate high achievement among the students.
Many arguments are raised against school vouchers are unfounded. The first is that the voucher plan would violate the establishment-of-religion clause of the first amendment. However, in the voucher plan, it is not Congress that is supporting the establishment- of-religion but the parents, since the money would be theirs. In this way, as a right of parental responsibility, all parents should be allowed to select the agencies of their child’s education regardless of the religious faith of a particular school. The next argument is that the introduction of vouchers would lead to the bankruptcy of the public schools. However, the voucher is worth at most what it costs to educate each student. The school wouldn’t need to spend that money on a student if the student did not attend. Therefore the school would not lose money by losing the student. The only difference in this system and the current is that the parent is participating in the distribution of their tax money. The other argument opposing the voucher method is that there will be a mass migration from public to private schools. This, at any rate wouldn’t happen because if the public schools were not doing well then they would either fail or meet the competition. If they were to meet the competition then the American Public would have no cause for concern. “Social justice requires that all parents, rich and poor, be able to direct the education of their children according to the dictates of their consciences”( Hanus, 1997, p.30). America needs school vouchers.
The controversy of school vouchers is a matter that can be attacked in many various ways. However, the American people need to look at the incentives that can be provided in the future rather than the setbacks. No educational systems are flawless, and in order to improve in one way, something else must suffer. The American educational system is already behind many others and can’t wait much longer before falling out of the race. Already 20 foreign nations have subsidized religious education for many years and have not experienced the negative effects anticipated by some. What happens to the American educational system will be decided by the American people. The wait has been too long already and should not be postponed any longer. It is time to make a decision. It is time for school vouchers.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. School Choice. Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation, 1992.
Doerr, Edd. “The Empty Promise of School Vouchers.” USA Today (Magazine). March 1997: 88-90.
Doerr, Edd; Albert Menendez, and John Swomley. The Case Against School Vouchers.
Hanus, Jerome. “School Vouchers, Pro and Con.” Current. Jan 1997: 30-31.
“Majority of Americans Favor School Vouchers.” The Christian Century. 23 Sept 1998: 857.
“Public Education: A Monopoly No Longer.” US News and World Report. 25 June 1998: 25.
Rouse, Cecilia. “Private School Vouchers and Student Achievement.” Quarterly Journal of Economics. v113 (1998) 553-603.
Noll, James Wm. Taking Sides, Dushkin Mcgraw Hill, 1999
Shapiro, Walter. “Pick a School, Any School.” Time. 3 Sept 1990: 70-71.
Skillen, James W., The School-Choice Controversy. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.
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