Issues and Arguments
vouchers, also known as scholarships, redirect the flow of education funding, channeling
it directly to individual families rather than to school districts. This allows families
to select the public or private schools of their choice and have all or part of the
tuition paid. Scholarships are advocated on the grounds that parental choice and
competition between public and private schools will improve education for all children.
Vouchers can be funded and administered by the government, by private organizations, or by
some combination of both.
This page brings
together some of the most important sources of evidence on the outcomes of existing
scholarship programs. It includes studies of both privately- and publicly-funded programs,
as well as the results of a key court case. (A more comprehensive discussion of the
advantages and disadvantages of both private and government-funded scholarships can be
found in the book Market Education: The Unknown History.)
Government-run voucher programs
are very controversial, and they have been criticized from two very different angles. The
first body of criticism alleges that competitive markets are not well
suited to the field of education, and that any school reform based on privatization,
competition, and parental choice is doomed to failure. A summary of these arguments, with
responses, can be found by clicking here.
The second body of criticism states that government-funded
scholarships would not create a genuinely free educational market, but instead would
perpetuate dependence on government funding and regulation to the continued detriment of
families. These arguments, along with responses are described here.
Court of the state of Wisconsin ruled on June 10th, 1998, that the expanded Milwaukee
voucher program--which will allow up to 15,000 children to attend any religious or other
private school--does not violate either the state or federal constitutions. A link to the
complete verdict follows, but please note that due to the size of the page it may be slow
to load. Complete verdict.
This verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on
November 9, 1998, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court announced that they had voted 8
to 1 not to hear the appeal, and thus to allow the verdict of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
An Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship
by Jay P. Greene, William G. Howell, and Paul E. Peterson
"This evaluation, issued by Harvard's Program on Education
Policy and Governance (PEPG), reports the results of a survey of a random sample of
parents who applied for a CSTP scholarship, including both parents of scholarship
recipients and parents of non-recipients. It also reports test-score results for students
attending two schools established in response to the creation of CSTP."--From the
report's Executive Summary.
Note that researchers from Indiana University completed a study
of the Cleveland program in May of 1998 and found no academic benefits to students after
the first year (not available on-line). Peterson and Greene have identified a number of
critical flaws in the Indiana paper, however, which greatly undermine its credibility.
Their assessment of the Indiana study will hopefully be made available here shortly.
Fifth Year Report: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
by John F. Witte, Troy D. Sterr and Christopher A. Thorn
An analysis of the Milwaukee publicly-run voucher program by the
officially appointed researcher. According to Witte, the parents of "choice"
kids are virtually unanimous in their opinion of the program: they love it. Parents are
not only far more satisfied with their freely chosen private schools than they were with
their former public schools, they participate more actively in their children's education
now that they've made the move. See the review of "The Effectiveness of School Choice
in Milwaukee," below, for a note on academic achievement outcomes of the program.
Effectiveness of School Choice in Milwaukee
by Jay P. Greene, Paul E. Peterson, and Jiangtao Du
"A Secondary Analysis of Data from the Program's
Evaluation." Witte's studies failed to demonstrate any academic advantage to students
in choice schools. Recently, a reanalysis of the raw data by statisticians and educational
researchers from Harvard and the University of Houston found that choice students do
indeed benefit academically from the program, showing significant gains in both reading
and mathematics by their fourth year of participation.
Fourth Year Report: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
by: John F. Witte
See above. Previous year's report by Mr. Witte.
Edited by Terry M. Moe (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1995)
Find out more from the Hoover Institution.
As described on the Taking Action page,
privately funded and operated voucher programs are perhaps the most effective way to help
low-income families become active consumers in the educational marketplace, helping them
to gain control over their children's education and encouraging them to become more
involved. More than two dozen private voucher programs exist in cities across the United
States, and Terry Moe has collected some of the most interesting and compelling studies of
these programs in Private Vouchers. The attitudes and motivations of participating
parents are explored, as are the academic effects of programs from Texas to Wisconsin.
Truly an important source of empirical evidence for anyone interested in the impact of
competition and choice on the ability of schools to serve the needs of families.
School Choice: Why You Need
It--How You Get It, by David Harmer (1994)