It is not a secret that many people in this country feel that public education standards are not as high as the standards set for private schools. For this reason there has been a debate over whether an educational voucher system and school choice would work in the United States. Although this seems lie it is a fairly new idea, it has been argued for a long time. "In the early 1960's, free-market economist Milton Friedman reasoned that if parents were allotted tax dollars to shop around for education, competition would force public schools to ratchet up their performance" (Thomas Toch 66). "Parents could express their views about schools directly by withdrawing their child from one school and sending them to another, to a much greater extent than is now possible" (LaNoue). Due to the Presidential elections this year the issue has become more publicized because of presidential candidate Bob Dole's support of the system. The ideas of using vouchers for children to attend private schools are mainly to raise the standard of public schools so finally children going to private and public schools will be on the same standards level. 13). There are a few debates over the issue: Will a voucher plan work? Who would be receiving the voucher money? Will the children involved in the system benefit?.
I feel that the majority of the money would be supporting solely religious institutions. I went to a high school rated third in the state of New York. There were 250 people in my graduating class. There were over 350 in my graduating class from Middle School. Even though the High School was one of the top in the state over 100 students attended high schools with religious affiliations. If a voucher plan was put in effect the public schools would not only lose funding because too many students would go to private schools but the profits on religious schools would increase to incredible amounts. It is not that I think religious schools should not have the same chance to make money but I feel that the money would be better if the whole community could use it. If a public school receives funds and builds a playground it can be used by the community but if a private school builds a playground it is on private property and the school can restrict who uses it. To understand how the private schools would receive the funds let me explain the possible voucher plan.
Right now the leader of the side for school vouchers is former Senator Bob Dole:
A program similar to this has already been started at schools in Milwaukee and Cleveland. In a poll taken in U.S. News & World Report, "most of the voucher students at these schools are satisfied" (Cohen 57). This program was meant to enable low-income families to send their children to private schools, "but 27 percent of the 1,864 low-income kids in the Cleveland program were already in private schools" (Thomas Toch 66). There are a few problems already arising in these states. One is that if there are children who want to attend private schools there could be a lack of space in them. As far back as 1972 Mr. Friedman, an economist, was arguing that "if present public expenditures on schooling were made available to parents regardless of where they send their children, a wide variety of schools would spring up to meet the demand." (LaNoue 13). Another issue is that this program is not always beneficial to the private school itself. While the schools do have the benefit of deciding whom they accept there is an economical issue. There have already been three private schools that have closed because they did not have enough money to keep the schools going. If the private schools that children attend are closing they will be forced to find and enroll in other schools. There are also the teachers to consider they must are forced to find new places of employment, these teachers could of been employed for many years but now are out of work. What happens to employees of the public school system? If students are leaving the schools there is less funding given to the school and eventually they will not have enough money to run the school and it would be forced to close. Something similar to this happened to my mother a few years back and from this I learned that it is very difficult to find a job as a teacher if you hold a high degree like a masters and command a higher salary. It is much easier and cheaper for a school to hire a teacher straight out of college that doesn't require a high salary, even if it is not a beneficial to the students.
Why does the government has to improve the standards of the public school system in the first place? In an article by Dwight R. Lee and Robert L. Saxton they compared this issue to the Universal food stamp. The government found the need to introduce food stamps that could be used by a consumer at the business of their choice, there was "...no reason why the food actually had to be provided by the government." (80). This article argues that maybe the school systems in America should be run more like the Universal food stamp program, give people the choice of where to receive their education, and not have the government "sell" their own education. I think a fact that was left out of this argument is that the government did provide food. The government cheese program was used to give out food to those who were in need. I think that people in this country are in need of education and see no reason the government should not supply it. People in this country pay outrageous amounts of taxes and one thing that tax money pays for is schooling. It has been argued by Mr. Dole that there would be no tax increase if a voucher system was put in place but I think the public can see that an idea like that is a farceur. I think maybe instead of a voucher program there are other plans that could be looked at more closely.
There has always been a controversy in New York over the issue of reforming the New York City School District because of its horrendous reputation for being very violent and poor at actually teaching. The Board of Regents voted earlier this year on an experimental voucher program. In this program parents "could remove their children from the worst public school and send them to parochial schools." (David Stout 25). The plan was voted down 8 to 5. The reasoning was said to be that it is too early to make such a drastic change in the educational system. This is coming from a state in which the standards are relatively high as compared to the rest of the country because of the use of the Regents testing system. The Board of Regents is a group that sets the standards for the public schools in all of New York. In this system a student must pass a statewide exam that maintains a minimum standard in all academic subjects. Private schools are not required to, and usually do not, administer the Regents exams to their students. The private institutions set their own standards and are not required by the state to teach a certain curriculum or even have an certain amount of class hours. A lot of private schools also have religious affiliations and these schools do not teach certain curricula such as the theory of evolution. This is because the private schools are not receiving funds from the government and therefore do not have to follow government rules. Public schools in a state are required to cover certain curriculum, a private school can teach any course they like. While this may benefit a student I believe the state has done a lot of research to develop courses that will support a students goals. This is a another idea to consider instead of vouchers: would this country be better off with a nation wide standardized test? The Regents used to be widely used in this country but is now only utilized in New York.
There are benefits of a voucher system in the United States. A parent could choose the best school for their child. There are also many downfalls to Mr. Dole's and other voucher systems, such as public schools having to close their doors due to lack of enrollment. If children are leaving public schools the public institutions will lose federal and state aid and eventually not have enough funds to remain open. Private schools are also going to open that are not qualified to teach children but are in the business of making money not educating children. Most of the private schools in this country have religious affiliations and I think it is more beneficial for a student to learn a non-religious more open ideas that are taught in public schools like Darwin's Theories and the theory of evolution.
No matter how we look at it, this debate will continue for a very long time and the only way we may find out the answer of whether the U.S. should turn to a voucher system to improve public schools is experimentation with cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland. I feel that a student would receive a better more open education in a public school. It would be a great loss to this nation to have a school system that is totally private. This would just prove the fact that everything in America is a business and nothing is just for the good of the country.
Arum, Richard. "Do Private Schools Force Public Schools To
Compete?" American Sociological Review 61 (1996): 29-45.
"Campaign Sound Off." 7 December 1996. On-line posting.
www.cat.starwave.com. 7 December 1996.
"Bob Dole Will Empower Low- and Middle-Income Parents With
School Choice." 25 October 1996. On-line posting.
Dole96.com. 25 October 1996: 1.
"The Choice That Could Save Our Schools." 25 October 1996.
On-line posting. Dole96.com. 25 October 1996: 1-2.
Cohen, Warren. "Milwaukee Tries Vouchers." U.S. News & World
Report 16 September 1996: 57.
"The Educational Policy Institute." 7 December 1996. On-line
Posting. www.schoolreport.com. 7 December 1996.
Gubernick, Lisa. "Midmarket schools." Forbes 31 July 1995:
Harrison, Glenn W. "A School Voucher Scheme." November 1993.
On-line posting. www.theweb.badm.sc.edu. 7 December 1996.
Hedden, Kim Callahan. "Vouchers: A Realistic Solution."
Washington Post 5 November 1996:A18.
LaNoue, George R., ed. Educational Vouchers: Concepts and
Controversies. New York and London: teachers College Press,
Lee, Dwight R, and Robert L. Sexton. "The Public School Lobby
vs. Educational Vouchers." USA Today September 1988: 79-81.
Oldrieve, Richard M. "Fooling Ourselves About Vouchers."
Washington Post 21 October 1996: A18.
Riley, Richard. "Education Address to America." 28 February
1996. On-line posting. www.ed.gov. 7 December 1996.
Stout, David. "Regents' Vote Turns Aside Voucher Plan." New
York Times 21 September 1996: B21.
Toch, Thomas. "Why Vouchers Won't Work." U.S. News & World
Report 7 October 1996: 66.
"Why Public Schools." 7 December 1996. On-line Posting. www.ak.nea.org. 7 December 1996.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.