Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Here's something I wrote on vouchers years ago (1992). It's interesting to consider what still holds true, what progress has been made, and what has not.


Disclaimer: This work is intended to be a summary, not a research paper, and thus is not documented. However, nearly all of this information can be found in a 1990 book by David W. Kirkpatrick, former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Choice in Schooling. The book is well documented and includes an extensive bibliography on the subject.

Myth: Tuition vouchers are a new idea.

Fact: Tuition vouchers were supported by Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.

Myth: Vouchers are a conservative, or Republican, issue.

Fact: People from various parties, liberal and conservative, have supported tuition vouchers throughout our history. Only since Ronald Reagan (conservative Republican) supported vouchers against the opposition of the NEA (which supported liberal democrats) has this issue been perceived as conservative.

Myth: Tuition vouchers would be unconstitutional.

Fact: In 1930 the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana Law giving textbooks to public and private schools alike.

Fact: In 1983 The Supreme Court upheld tuition tax credits for all students and parents.

Fact: The GI bill, a tuition voucher for higher education, has been used since 1944 for both public and private schools. By 1958 over 3600 veterans had used the voucher to enter the clergy!

Fact: In Illinois, the state has provided vouchers for certain handicapped children to attend private schools.

Fact: In 1976, The California Supreme Court (Seranno II) rejected that state's present school financing system as unconstitutional. Among the 6 constitutional alternatives spelled out by the court was vouchers!

Fact: In 1983 (Mueller v. Alien) Rehnquist wrote for the Supreme Court majority: "A state's decision to defray the cost of educational expenses... regardless of the type of schools ... evidences a purpose that is both secular and understandable" (read constitutional).

Fact: In more than 30 Maine towns that lack high schools of their own, students have been allowed to attend public, private, or parochial high schools in other towns with their own town paying the tuition.

Fact: In 1985, Minnesota began allowing public school juniors and seniors to attend state colleges or private colleges at public expense for high school and college credit.

Myth: Tuition vouchers would permit the establishment of segregated schools or elite schools for the rich.

Fact: In 1958 (Cooper v. Aaron) state support of segregated schools was outlawed. Even private schools are subject to discrimination laws.

Fact: Typical proposed voucher legislation includes provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or economic status. One proposal says that an individual could not add funds to the voucher—so parents using expensive, elite schools would have to foot the whole bill.

Fact: Poor and minorities express the most support for vouchers.

Fact: We now have tuition tax credits which DO help the middle class and rich have choice in schooling, but do nothing for the poor whose taxes are not greatly affected.

Fact: The wealthy successfully establish elite public schools now by moving to exclusive communities and supporting schools with high property taxes which they then deduct from income. Open enrollment policies, short of vouchers, would tend to counteract this practice.

Fact: In 1974 Daniel Sullivan found the range of per-pupil costs in public schools to be from $200 to $14000! (How's that for elitism?) Vouchers would certainly tend to equalize these discrepancies.

Fact: Present nonpublic schools are not elitist. Lutheran schools, for example, are populated mostly by middle and lower class children. Some Lutheran schools do not even charge tuition to members, and since anyone who wishes may become a member, this is an non-elitist policy. Andrew Greeley compared the number of blacks in Catholic and public schools and found:
......................Catholic .............. Public
have few blacks...30% .............. 29%
half black ........... 21% ............... 28%
mostly black....... 22% .............. 24%
all black ............ 17% ............... 19%

Fact: In addition, recent Census Bureau reports say being white increases the probability of private school attendance by only 1%!

Myth: Parents would make mistakes in educational choices (cant be trusted or are too apathetic to make good choices).

Fact: Of course parents would make mistakes. But individual mistakes can quickly and easily be corrected. Government mistakes, affecting thousands or millions of students, often cannot be corrected for years, if at all, certainly too late to help those affected.

Fact: Parents are apathetic because they are powerless. Given choice, parents tend to be actively supportive of their schools.

Myth: Vouchers would destroy the public schools.

Fact: This has not happened in higher education, where the GI bill (a voucher), the Pell grant, and various government loans have made private education competitive with public colleges.

Fact: In other countries public schools thrive alongside state-supported private schools. In Denmark, only 7% of students do not attend public schools although homeschooling is allowed, parents may band together and start their own school which receives 85% funding of operating costs after the first year, and parochial schools are also supported. France and England also give government support to private schools but the majority of students attend government schools.

Fact: Those who make this statement do not even consider the possibility that destroying the public schools, as we know them, might be a good thing!

Myth: Tuition vouchers would hurt teachers.

Fact: The greatest result of the voucher system might be not freedom of choice for students but freedom of choice for teachers—to use individual differences, skills, and philosophy. In British Columbia, as Peter Brimelow reported in 1985, government subsidies given directly to private schools resulted in an unexpected blossoming of teachers declaring independence to start their own schools.

Fact: Phi Delta Kappan (the educators' honor society) members support vouchers by 46% to 41% opposed (1986).

Fact: In recent years the percent of school budgets for teacher salaries has declined from about 56% to 40%. A voucher system might result in higher teacher salaries while at the same time lowering educational costs by cutting bureaucracy.

Fact: In 1972-1974 a limited experiment in vouchers was conducted in the Alum Rock school district in California. Limitations of this study included that it was short term, only involved one district, only elementary, and only public schools. Still, the following results are interesting:
95% of parents said they liked having choice
75% of parents felt their children received a better education
96% of teachers said they had more freedom to be innovative
66% of teachers said parents should have more say about what children learn
66% of teachers said vouchers would help accomplish this
Central staff members began to function more as consultants than administrators
Principals functioned more as counselors and advisers
The prediction that there would be sweeping changes proved wrong—there was no chaos, no segregation, no brutal competition

Myth: Vouchers would encourage fraud or fly-by-night schools.

Fact: Schools receiving vouchers would typically have to be approved by the state anyway. Besides, isn't fraud a good word to describe graduating millions of illiterates, as the current system does?