Policy Documents

Why Conservatives and Libertarians Should Support School Vouchers

October 1, 2002

Conservatives and libertarians generally approve of returning the production of goods and services to the private sector. Why, then, do some conservatives and libertarians oppose school vouchers?

School vouchers are certificates or chits issued by a government agency to parents of school-age children, good for some or all of the cost of tuition at participating schools. Instead of tax dollars going directly (and only) to government-run schools, those dollars go directly to parents who choose the schools, whether private or government run, their children attend. Classical liberals such as Adam Smith and Tom Paine as well as, more recently, libertarians such as Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams have advocated vouchers.

Some libertarians oppose vouchers on grounds that they don’t go far enough. Like other forms of privatization such as contracting out and franchising, vouchers privatize the production of a service but leave government responsible for providing it (Savas 2000). Education, the opponents point out, remains an entitlement under a voucher plan, and libertarians (at least purist libertarians) oppose all entitlements.

Some conservatives, who do not necessarily oppose entitlements, reject vouchers for different reasons. They fear that vouchers would lead to increased regulation of the curriculum and hiring practices of religious schools or that vouchers would tempt parents who now enroll their children in religious schools or who teach them at home instead to enroll them in secular schools (Duffy 1995).

Antivoucher separationists’ positions rest on beliefs and objections that do not withstand close scrutiny. In this article, I hope to persuade libertarians and conservatives that school vouchers are consistent with their own beliefs and a necessary part of an effective strategy for accomplishing their own long-term objectives.