Policy Documents

Vouchers And South Carolina School Children

Karla Dial –
April 14, 2009

In a marketplace, cash follows the consumer. Institutions that provide value to consumers flourish, and those that do not wither. But that’s not true in education, because of the government monopoly on the tax revenues that fund schooling. Parents who want to send their children to private schools must still pay for the government schools they don’t use. Many parents who are dissatisfied with public schools cannot afford to double-pay for education: once in taxes to pay for the government schools they don’t use, and then again for private tuition at a private school of their choice.

The solution is education vouchers. An education voucher gives parents, instead of politicians, the ability to determine what schools and educational methods are most appropriate for their children. That causes institutions to improve their services in order to attract students. Without vouchers, the freedom to choose educational institutions is restricted to the wealthy and those who are fortunate enough to win one of the few scholarships available at private educational institutions. Without effective choice, parents are unable to place pressure on public schools to improve.

Recent research conducted by well-respected academics is revealing something teacher unions don’t want legislators to know: School vouchers help low-income children close the achievement gap between them and their better-off peers. Vouchers also save money and break the monopoly of public education, spurring all schools to step up their games through competition.

For example:

* Research released in early April by the U.S. Department of Education shows the Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program, available to low-income minority children in the District of Columbia, shows measurable academic gains for the entire group. Compared to the peers they left behind in public schools, voucher recipients are reading a half-grade ahead.

* Research released in March by the University of Arkansas School Choice Demonstration Project shows students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program are receiving at least as good an education as their peers in public schools—and in some cases, a much better education—at approximately half the cost. In fiscal year 2009, the voucher program saved taxpayers $37 million.

* Research released last year shows public schools that send special-needs students to private schools through Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program produced better academic results in their special-needs programs than other public schools.

The links below offer additional information on what the research shows about how a voucher program might serve the children of South Carolina.

Can Vouchers Reform Public School?
http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/23538/
This Heartland Policy Study by education expert George Clowes addresses concerns about the efficacy of school vouchers that have been raised by some school reform advocates. The author distinguishes between “charity vouchers” and universal vouchers and explains why the former are unlikely to cause systemic reform of public schools. However, data on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program show that even charity vouchers demonstrate the reforming potential of school choice. Reform advocates shouldn’t give up on vouchers, Clowes concludes.

Three Objections to School Vouchers ... Answered
http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/15487/
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast responds to three popular misconceptions about vouchers, regarding funding, government dependence, and regulation.

What Would a School Voucher Buy? The Real Cost of Private Schools
http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-025.html
In this Cato Institute Briefing Paper, David Boaz and R. Morris Barrett explain how vouchers are economically viable and the benefits choice would bring. They also describe many flaws in the government-monopolized school system.

Voucher Programs Offer Public Systems Much-Needed Competition
http://www.alleghanynews.com/mushroomchronicles/column12.php
Blogger Bill Rost of Mushroom Chronicles addresses several concerns about vouchers, including difficulties over government funding for religious schools, taking money from public schools, and quality control for education.

How Lack of Choice Cheats Our Kids Out of a Good Education
http://abcnews.go.com/2020/print?id=2383857
ABC-TV reporter John Stossel challenges the public school establishment for its variety of failings and explains the need for school choice.

Will School Vouchers Improve Public Education? Yes: New Studies Show All Students’ Scores Rise
http://www.ajc.com/services/content/opinion/stories/2009/02/12/puseyed0212.html
This Atlanta Journal-Constitution article cites two recent studies examining the effectiveness of private schools versus public schools. It highlights evidence showing competition helps all students, even those who remain in public schools.

School Choice for South Carolina
http://www.scpolicycouncil.com/research-and-publications-/education/74--school-choice-for-south-carolina-why-parents-and-students-deserve-a-full-range-of-educational-options
The South Carolina Policy Council offers its perspective on school choice and the need for reform in South Carolina.

For further information on the subject, visit the Education Issue Suite on The Heartland Institute’s Web site at www.heartland.org.

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Karla Dial, managing editor of School Reform News, at kdial@heartland.org.