School Choice: Questions and Answers

Will school choice raise taxes?

No. Studies have found that most private schools cost far less per pupil than public schools.

Will school choice mean a return to segregated schools?

No. Currently, children attending public schools in their home district often are attending segregated schools. Today’s private schools are often less segregated than public schools, especially in the inner cities.

Do vouchers help children get a better education?

When Paul Peterson of Harvard and Jay Greene of the University of Houston compared Milwaukee public school voucher students with similar backgrounds, they found:

Voucher students had reading scores 3 percentile points higher and math scores 5 percentile points higher, on the average, in their third years.

Voucher students had reading scores 5 percentile points higher and math scores 12 percentile points higher, on the average, in their fourth years. In another study, Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University found that math scores of voucher students increased 1.5 percent to 2 percent each year over what they would have attained in public schools, with the improvement coming every year compounding the effect.

Is it unconstitutional to use tax dollars when, in some cases, they may be applied to tuition at religious schools?

Military veterans have used the government-funded GI Bill to attend any college, religious or secular, and federal Stafford loans and Pell grants can be used at both religious and secular institutions of higher learning.

A mix of cases has failed to clarify the constitutional issue totally. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the Wisconsin voucher program increases the probability that other voucher programs will be held constitutional.

Do vouchers harm public schools?

Despite the dismal record of public schools in both Milwaukee and Cleveland, teachers’ unions and their allies have attacked the voucher program as harmful to the public schools. The only problem with public schools, they say, is a lack of money.

About $7.1 million went to the Milwaukee private school program in the 1996-97 school year, when 1,650 students participated and payments were $4,400 per student. The union said the money should have been used in the public schools to reduce class size and implement a new learning program. This argument ignored the fact that the district received about $7,500 for each of the students and sent the private schools only $4,400 – giving the district an extra $3,100 for each of the children it no longer had to educate. Thus the public schools had more money per remaining student. The same was true in Ohio.

The president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers said the $5.25 million spent last school year on voucher students (about $3,300 per student when other costs are considered) was money being denied to public schools. But state officials pointed out that the public schools, which spent $6,506 per student in 1996-97, came out ahead because the state funding formula still counted the voucher students in Cleveland’s enrollment.

What will happen to public schools and teachers if vouchers are approved?

The fear that competition will destroy public education is misplaced. Competition will create an incentive and opportunity for government schools to stop their failed monopolistic practices, restructure and provide students the quality education they have been promising but failing to deliver for decades.

Are the best students skimmed off by the private schools?

No. Numerous private schools educate low-performing students. Also, the U.S. has more than 3,000 special education private schools, 2,000 private facilities housing juveniles under court care, and 200 Catholic schools dedicated to children with disabilities. Giving parents a choice of schools will not destroy public schools, the truth is that all school only can grow stronger as a result of competition.

What would happen to teachers under a voucher system?

Under such a system, school choice advocates say, dedicated teachers would at last receive the rewards they are currently being denied by public school bureaucracies.

Here are some of the benefits they could expect:

Exceptional teachers would realize financial benefits and achieve professional recognition, since private school administrators would seek them out and hire them.

Public school administrators would have to learn to please such teachers or risk losing them.

This would afford teachers the license to become innovative in the classroom and the leverage to become active in shaping the curriculum.

In a less bureaucratic environment, teachers’ ability to obtain resources would be greatly enhanced.

Finally, the freedom created by school choice would allow a teacher to choose to work at a certain school because of its emphasis on the teacher’s specialty.