Argument: Vouchers give poor a choice of schools, lower inequality

Issue Report: Education vouchers


Friedrich von Hayek explains – “As has been shown by Professor Milton Friedman (M. Friedman, The role of government in education,1955), it would now be entirely practicable to defray the costs of general education out of the public purse without maintaining government schools, by giving the parents vouchers covering the cost of education of each child which they could hand over to schools of their choice. It may still be desirable that government directly provide schools in a few isolated communities where the number of children is too small (and the average cost of education therefore too high) for privately run schools. But with respect to the great majority of the population, it would undoubtedly be possible to leave the organization and management of education entirely to private efforts, with the government providing merely the basic finance and ensuring a minimum standard for all schools where the vouchers could be spent.” (F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, section 24.3)

Jeff Jacoby. “How Obama can fix education”. Boston Globe. December 3, 2008 – Not every school can be a Sidwell Friends, but every school ought to have something Sidwell Friends benefits from every day. Money isn’t the root of Sidwell Friends’ success. Neither is the size of its classes, or its well-appointed facilities, or its loyal alumni. Sidwell Friends thrives because it has competition – and DC’s public schools stagnate because they don’t. Public education is essentially a monopoly, and monopolies tend to be costly, unimaginative, and indifferent to their customers’ needs. Private and parochial schools, by contrast, cannot succeed if they lose the goodwill and confidence of the parents who choose them to educate their children.

The DC school system spends $13,700 per student, and most of those students can’t even read or do simple math. Imagine what would happen if that money were channeled to parents instead, through vouchers that would let them freely choose their kids’ schools. Imagine the energy, innovation, and diversity such competition would beget. Imagine the accountability and excellence it would lead to. Imagine the improvement in the lives of Washington’s children. Imagine – 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education – achieving educational equality at last.

Public education doesn’t have to be a lethargic and mediocre monopoly. Let vouchers stimulate competition, and education would be revolutionized. If that isn’t change worth believing in, Mr. Obama, what is?

“School Choice; Will Barack Obama deprive D.C. children of the opportunity his children have?”. The Washington Post (Editorial). November 16, 2008 – During the just-concluded campaign, Mr. Obama spoke dismissively of the federally funded voucher program that gives poor D.C. families access to the kind of educational opportunities his family is fortunate to have. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program gives low-income families up to $7,500 per child for their children to escape failed public schools and attend private schools. Some 1,900 children receive vouchers, and many more are clamoring to join the program. Democrats, and their allies in public school teachers unions, oppose the vouchers and, with the party soon to control Congress and the White House, supporters of the program are right to worry.

Let’s hope the experience of moving his girls and finding the place where they will flourish resonates with Mr. Obama so that he reexamines his stance on the District’s voucher program. How is it right to take away what little choice there is for needy D.C. children? The scholarship program wasn’t intended to replace Washington’s public schools, and it doesn’t lessen the urgency of improving them. But it does give some poor parents an opportunity taken for granted by better-off families, who can pick their residency based on school district even if they can’t afford the most elite private schools.

Andrew Coulson website School Choices – The question is thus, would vouchers or some other form of scholarships for low-income families reduce or enlarge the educational gap between rich and poor that exists in public schools. If we look at currently operating voucher programs, the answer is clear. Because these programs are compensatory in nature, they award vouchers only to poor children, thereby increasing the range of educational choices open to low-income families, and reducing the education gap. From both an economic and an educational standpoint this approach offers the most promise for future voucher programs as well.