What Prospect do School Vouchers Offer For A Majority of Students?
The subject of whether to support school vouchers recently has been a hot topic again Considering the importance of education equality for the health of our society as a whole, This has been a crucial topic for decades, from the era of Kennedy and Johnson (Fuller, 2) to the elections such as that of Gore and Bush in 2000, and now in the Trump-era. The voucher program works as an alternative to our federal public school system, as it provides subsidizes to private schooling institutions, (including religious schools) with the intended goal of giving students a more variety of education, especially those in poor school districts. Another intended result is better student achievement levels. However, this cannot be proven and leads to many institutions from limiting who can apply, to only those who pass rigorous exams (Berliner, 183).
So not only will we generally see only a few students able to enter these prestigious and expensive schools, the other students that get voucher programs for private schools do not always know if their school is even sufficient for their grade level. These vouchers vary in amount based on state program, and still often require private tuition fees. As an attempt to limit educational inequality, we must see what long-term effects promoting school voucher programs would have. Supporters justify these programs by the sad state of our public education system, not realizing in the long run this will not improve it but exacerbate the already stratified nature of our education system. The issue of whether our nation’s children should be left to a federally funded social institution, or to the private marketplace in the name of supposed “choice” justified by the “market god” the right claims will single-handedly fix our education system is the real question (Engel 1). What this choice really means and the trends this sort of educational policy would lead to really has implications that would affect the lives of many of our children’s, especially those already suffering in low socio-economic areas that already have a room for improvement. Will this program, as its supporters claim, use the increased competition to lead all schools to compete for excellence? Or does it put one type of school at a disadvantage? Many of these schools are religion-based. Can we assume that they will give equal opportunity to students of all religion and at the same time provide non-religious education that is on par with state standards? Or will taking students out of public schools and pushing funding to private institutions disproportionally give advantage to one type of education system, while splintering the students that need more educational opportunities, and only catering to a select few that can afford it or score high on a test (which many wealthy students are able to prepare for beforehand)? We can see a little prediction of what would happen to education on a macrolevel if this program was applied, if we look at Australia’s experiments in it, and generally look at the way the market works itself and how it distributes resources.
Many advocates of private schools claim that the market will always provide the best solution. If the issue is improving inequality, we must determine if the market will be able to provide to most students. Voucher programs have been the subject of controversy because of their very radically different way of selecting students, and how they threaten the future viability of our public-school system. Instead of the normal process of sending money directly to the public-school institution per student, it gives money on an individual basis. We are effectively taking resources that could be used to pay for better instructors in a public school, and experimentally giving funds to unaccountable private individuals that mostly cater to the rich and privileged.
In creating an educational policy with the goal of providing the maximum number of students the best possible education, we must compare different forms of education that certain legislators seem to be keen in wanting to promote. When looking at which form of education is the most efficient, we must look at many factors and study what history has already amply shown us the effectiveness of these programs. To get data and assess the distinctions, we must listen to anecdotal stories about parents who have sent their children to these schools and see what their reactions were. According to a Cleveland resident whose child was in the program, La Ruth Jackson, the private school she enrolled her child in seemed from the outside to promise a lot, but delivered very little, almost abandoning the students entirely. In attempt to seek accountability, she learned from the state that they have little control over what these schools even teach.
This is telling of what the reality would be when policy like this would lead to many more private institutions opening for the sake of short term profits. This program while claiming to be justified based on its intended effects, has reasons to suspect the genuine nature of supporters for these programs, who often have links to private individuals/corporations that profit from these programs. Certain students who would normally go to public schools might be able to attend private schools, however, the state wishing to subsidize private institutions and rely on them to provide for our children shows the amount of trust legislators put in these profit-making institutions. For them to use citizens tax dollars for the claim “to improve education for more students”, we must assess whether another hidden intention is to enrich lobbyists and influential businessmen. As an example, Berliner notes that in Australia, lobbying efforts by private individuals was one of the real motivations behind the effort of school vouchers (Berliner 178) We must see how much of an influence lobbies that profit from education have put in our political system, to see one of the various motivations for this program. Considering the justification for these schools are that alternative schools can provide proper education in districts with poor schooling, we also must also consider that many of these private schools are not even properly certified and have educational standards that allow students to excel.
Voucher programs are usually applied in areas where there is already a known bad education system, but at the same time because the voucher program is an option, in some cases it might create more division in the educational system, and with a voucher program in full speed funneling money, it could prevent institutions to fund the public education system and this could further delay much needed renovations (justified because in some areas, students will supposedly have “choice”). As we have seen when practically applied, it also seems to lead to a larger gap between socio-economic groups by promoting private schools just if they allow some students from other areas to join, all the while they are not properly regulated and do not always provide students even the basics that all public schools are required to provide. However, many who support this program will look at the declining rate of public education institutions in this country and use it to show that we need more support for alternative forms of education. This might seem like an alternative for some, but considering the limitations of what these vouchers schools can offer, it would seem to be more of a short-term alternative, in the long run, many who switch to voucher programs regret their decisions and face long term consequences because of choosing to switch to these schools. However, each private school’s educational quality is completely dependent on how well intentioned and genuinely driven the owners are. This is because when school is privatized, cutting costs to beat competition often becomes the common norm, regardless of even intent of the individual. If the motive is maximizing profit, it often does not lead to maximizing the interest of the common citizen, in this case the future children/adults of our nation. In stripping, away students from the public-school system and promoting the enrollment and growth of private schools, we are determining that we see quality education in the future as a privilege for some, instead of focusing on giving more accessibility. We must understand what these alternative schools can offer and how they will affect the rest of the nation’s children who are in public school programs. Many assume that this gives citizens more choice in deciding where their child will go to school, and considering that there are areas where our school systems are not efficient, the knee jerk reaction is that giving them more “choice” would be better. But what is a “Choice” if you do not fully understand what the alternatives are. So those who already see the state of our educational system (especially in the inner-city) can get on board with those who justify vouchers, as an alternative for certain lucky/middle-class wealthy individuals can easily be swayed to support and join this program, not realizing that in the long-run this will further damage and weaken our public education system which seems to still be enrolling the maximum amount of students, which is specifically important for those disadvantaged economically/educationally.
If funding for public schools goes down and is replaced by small subsidies to private schools, we can see the overall trends leading to more privatization and less access to quality education, both for those in volatile private schools and already deprived public schools. Parents will need to be well aware of each individual voucher program and what type of financial and educational opportunities it gives to the few underprivileged families that will be able to send their children to these institutions. Not only does each type of voucher vary depending on state, it often does not always help finance the education of the poor, because it often only covers a portion of the full amount. How can this be a proper alternative if there is no guarantee on what will be covered and what will still come out of the pocket of these poor families? If the aim of the policy which its supporters claim is to give more students opportunities, how can an education that is run like a business for those who can entirely afford it be accessible to the many, who are already living in poor economic conditions?
Proponents of this assume or claim that this will give more students access to quality education, but both statements imply that the students that qualify for these programs are even given full compensation throughout their educational careers, and that they are receiving satisfactory education that meets the requirements for their grade. Both these assumptions are subjective to the individual state’s voucher program and the private institution. Our dominant ideology is that of the market, believing outcomes that occur based on the needs of private individuals will be good for all. Belief that selfishness and greed will somehow lead to some sort of freedom, borders on religious hysteria, yet it is a real position ingrained in the minds of many Americans (Engel, 19). When the number one interest at the end of the day is monetary wealth and capital accumulation, the well-being of those who the policy effects is put second to the profit margin.
Another claim is that privatized education, such as privatized services in market societies are superior because of its dollar value. In some cases, some can argue that certain private institutions run efficiently, but this is all based on whether they are able to receive profit for their services. Allowing children’s education to be commodified will create issues that will exacerbate inequality. If these students can be given less educated, less proficient teachers and more and more departments can be cut, private schools can earn more for their stockholders and entrepreneurs. So, in the short run, although many claim competition among different private schools will lead to the best outcomes, we see that it will also lead them to cutting costs and downsizing in the long run. The question to be asked is whether it is worth investing in providing small amounts of funding to students to attend private institutions. In some instances, schools were set up privately and eventually left to be abandoned. Students that are enrolled in such institutions whose running operations are subject to change at any time, are not assured they will be taken care of.
Considering there are not many schools in certain areas, many times students are forced to attend certain schools no matter how unsuccessful they are. This means that the claim that subsidizing and promoting voucher schools is a new form of “choice” for parents is really a euphemism.
As more and more private schools have children sent to them, they will have the power to increase the tuition based on their own private interests. This means that those who believe receiving a voucher will provide their children with the funds to go to a “good school”, must consider that the schools financial or academic requirements could change at any time. If a school becomes more selective, not only will those who can afford high tuition attend, but those whose parents can afford sending them to private tutors that help with entrance exams and with their SAT scores. The school itself at the same time does not necessarily have to provide good education, it could be considered prestigious and seem that way externally, but at the same time not provide students enough tools and knowledge to progress academically. If a private school continues to take in only the richest and top percentile of students in the area, it will leave the public schools in the area with the mediocre and lower income background students. For an example, we only should look at Australia’s recent attempt at a similar program, where in less than a decade switched enrollment from public to private schools and increased the polarization of wealth (Berliner 178). It also showed that this shift hurt the overall quality of attending public institutions, as graduation rates fell 8% after the implementation of vouchers (Berliner 179)
If funding is given to private schools instead of public schools, which also stratify students based on income the public school system (which a majority of citizens will still send up sending their kids) will be even more divided and of poorer quality instead of getting better, and only the elite schools will be left to provide certain few individuals proper education, which will lead to more and more exclusive private institutions that will cater and provide resources to the few, which will have long term effects on the future workforce of this country. If a nation does not have a properly funded public school system, it is unfounded to believe most the population will be able to send their kids to private schools and receive accessible quality education.
Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1999). The manufactured crisis: myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. New York: Basic Books.
Engel, M. (2000). The struggle for control of public education: market ideology vs. democratic values. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Fuller, B., Elmore, R. F., & Orfield, G. (1996). Who chooses? who loses?: culture, institutions, and the unequal effects of school choice. New York: Teachers College