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So What's the Problem with School Vouchers?

Updated on February 7, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

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School voucher program is a contentious topic in education, and it’s something that will not go away any time soon. It appeals to the desire of parents to send their children to the best school possible. In many cases, those schools happen to be private schools that they may or may not be able to afford.

Vouchers are supposed to give parents a stipend for private schools. It is aimed at those who believe their local public schools are inadequate. However, this school "reform" measure usually looks good on paper rather than in practice. Also, it appears that politics plays more of a role than actual quality of education. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the voucher system usually brought before local and state voters are deeply flawed and unrealistic.

What's Wrong with the Voucher System?

Pie Chart showing public sentiment on vouchers in Florida.
Pie Chart showing public sentiment on vouchers in Florida. | Source

Vouchers are a bad idea, no matter how anyone spins it. The rules governing them are usually poorly written and unrealistic. Also, they are loaded with ulterior political agendas meant to undermine public school funding as well as to eliminate certain academic curriculum (i.e. the teaching of evolution or sex education) while promoting other activities (prayer in school).

On top of that, private and parochial school officials -- as well as those running public schools-- are not fond of them. Many believe it can hinder their rights to function as an institution of learning without government intervention.

In theory, parochial schools and inner-city youth should prosper from this. After all, the voucher system is meant to offer money for those who want to attend a superior school, as opposed to the “inferior” public school in their neighborhoods.

The problem, however, is that the vouchers are usually underfunded. Most laws that have been implemented offered a stipend as high as five thousand dollars for tuition, books, and other material. In many cases, the vouchers were one-time offers. The cost of most parochial schools is much higher than five thousand and would not be much of a savings for parents who want them.

Also, like most private schools, a parochial school officials may fear taking money from a public entity. Officials at these schools believe they would have to follow certain guidelines set out by government regulations and policies that are similar to public schools. This may include such things as separation of church and state.

Many parochial schools have educational programs unique to their institutions. In many cases, they have traditions (religious or not) that exist within its walls. This cans be anything such as specific uniforms, specialized instructions, or gender-specific classrooms. Again, vouchers can knock these walls down and rob it of its uniqueness.

Due to the funding and the constitutional rights - in particular civil rights laws - which go along with it, this can strip this institution of their ability to select.

Even some conservative groups are against them as this political cartoon illustrates.
Even some conservative groups are against them as this political cartoon illustrates. | Source

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Another factor affected is a parochial school official’s right to select the students to attend their institution. Many prep schools have voiced dissatisfaction with this policy. Parochial school, which commonly focuses on a particular religious affiliation among its pupil, is no different in this matter. Due to the funding and the constitutional rights - in particular civil rights laws - which go along with it, this can strip this institution of their ability to select.

Still, the biggest reason vouchers shouldn’t be given to parochial schools is that it’s an attempt by local, state, and possibly federal government to impose a religion on the populous.

In several cases, vouchers were championed by religious fundamentalist groups or by socially conservative politicians. Many of them have initiated campaigns to indoctrinate religious studies and practices in public schools. However, they’ve often failed, in part to state and national constitutional laws which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over the other (in other words, establishing separation between church and state).

To these groups, vouchers are a way of taking students out of the public schools and placing them in parochial schools. This may sound legitimate until one realizes that the vouchers are (you guessed it) publicly financed. And, just as it has been mentioned already, this tidbit of fact means that government mandates can sneak its way into these schools and essentially convert them to something akin to a public school. As a result, separation of church and state is now at the front door of a once private religious institution.

Despite ideological arguments to the contrary, vouchers as they exist are flawed. It may do more harm to private and parochial schools. Also, it will not improve the education of students stuck in inner-city public schools. It’s no wonder so many parochial schools are simply saying no to voucher laws

Update 2017: Talks about Vouchers Return

Another Update: Confirmation

Betsy DeVos was confirmed by U.S. Senate On February 7, 2017 after Vice President Mike Pence issued a tie-breaking vote in a first-time move to confirm a cabinet member. DeVos comes in to office being opposed by teacher unions and civil rights groups.It's not known how her unpopularity among educators determine if she will be able to implement a voucher program.

As of this update, The newly minted President of the United States, Donald J.Trump is awaiting the nomination of his choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. The nominee is a controversial figure. She doesn't have experience running a complex system such as the country's public school system. On top of that, it appears her goal is to install school choices, religious-based charter schools, and vouchers.

Voucher supporters have been relatively quiet, but they haven't gone away. DeVos's mandate is testimony to that. Considering that Trump nominated her, it can be surmised that he supports it.

It's uncertain if DeVos will get the confirmation; however, one can determine that if she doesn't make it, Trump will appoint someone who may have the same view on vouchers. This will be something to watch in the coming months and years.

Argument for School Vouchers

Argument Against It

© 2014 Dean Traylor

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      Dean Traylor 10 months ago from Southern California

      Update added to this article to reflect current confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education....an ardent supporter of school vouchers.