the issue is quality education, not how much we spend *
In essence, opportunity scholarships, also known as school vouchers permit within certain constitutional parameters state funding of students to attend private rather than public schools.
One argument advanced in support of using public money to pay tuition to private schools is that competition between schools as in any free marketplace will increase productivity and lower costs.
And, that was the premise of an article written by the American economist Milton Friedman in 1955 entitled ‘The role of government in education.’
Ohio Governor Kasich has embraced this idea and under his leaderships the Ohio school voucher program will have doubled from 30,000 to 60,000 participants, and beyond.
“Governments,” Friedman wrote, “could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year, if spent on ‘approved’ educational services.”
Friedman used three examples of voucher systems to construct and advance his argument; the program for US veterans in which they were given a maximum sum per year to spend on education, and the systems in England and France where local authorities paid fees for some students to attend non-state schools.
Kasich in his recent address on funding education suggests that the voucher program is also a way to spur correction in what he describes as an educational system top heavy with administrators.
Although school voucher programs were in operation in both Maine and Vermont since the 1870’s, Wisconsin was the first state in recent times, 1989, to introduce a school voucher program designed to improve achievement levels in students from low income households in the City of Milwaukee.
12 years later, 2001, the State of Florida became the first state to offer state funded private school vouchers for students with disabilities.
These programs were followed by the District of Columbia, Utah’s universal voucher system, and the state-wide voucher program for low income students in Indiana. To date twelve states and the District of Columbia have school voucher programs.
Those in favor of school voucher programs suggest that parents will choose the highest performing schools in their area, and other schools will either improve or lose students and therefore funding.
Opponents on the other hand maintain that the advances in student performance levels and cost efficiencies of the existing voucher programs are simply overstated.
Since most of the current voucher programs are geared toward low income and ethnic students, it is perhaps not surprising that some improvements have been observed in low income and ethnic student achievement levels.
What is not known is whether expanding the voucher program to the general student population will result in gains in academic achievement over those gains seen in non-voucher systems due to other educational initiatives.
The most fundamental unanswered question about education remains - what is the association between money and quality education?
It might be worthwhile to investigate the increase in achievement levels in some schools that have lost students as a result of voucher programs.
There is evidence from both Wisconsin and Florida that some public schools that have lost students through vouchers have shown an increase in student achievement levels. Could smaller class size be a factor?
How many administrators are required to operate the voucher program, that is, to distribute the vouchers and monitor their use? After the recent doubling of the Ohio school voucher program to 60,000 participants the administrative needs of the voucher program should be coming into focus.
By way of comparison, one of GW Bush’s first term accomplishments was to cut the federal payroll by 500,000 jobs, and move those jobs into the private sector. A review by the OBM a year later showed that it had cost more to get the same work done in the private sector than it had when the work was performed by civil service employees, unions and all.
It is not at all clear why Friedman while readily acknowledging the stratification of residential areas in America, believed that the widening of the range of choice under a private educational system would operate to reduce social stratification.
And, it is inevitable that parents who are not otherwise constrained will move students not only to schools exhibiting the highest academic performance levels, but also to schools where their sons or daughters might be able to participate in sporting activities, in the performing arts, or simply where they feel their children will be safe.
While for those parents constrained by geographic, social or economic realities school choice is at best illusory, and their hope for a sound education for their children lie in the improvement of the existing schools in their area.
There are also questions about the free market business model that need to be addressed. For example, the drive for increased productivity and decreased costs in the US manufacturing sector has resulted in a marketplace where most goods are either top end or bottom end, and the durable goods once built by Americans which one could pass on from one generation to the next are increasingly non-existent.
In a nutshell, the problem in Ohio schools results from a lack of political will to hold people accountable.
Twenty-five Charter schools that fell below required academic achievement levels have been closed. There are some 300 public schools in Ohio whose academic performance levels are abysmal, and yet, these schools continue to operate.
School Choice Ohio Thank you for sharing this thoughtful analysis, Eric. We agree with you that accountability is one of the big missing ingredients in today's education system and love how school choice of all types gives parents a voice to vote with their feet and influence the system by their actions.
Political Awareness Economic Policy Institute: School Vouchers Examining the Evidence: "Recent highly publicized research involving Florida schools also highlights the difficulty in attributing test score gains to vouchers, since many of these programs involve not only vouchers but also school grading systems and others variables at the same time. The same researchers who found large effects from earlier voucher programs also found large voucher effects in Florida. But a closer look reveals that most of the gains could have been caused by the school grading system, not vouchers. In three states with school grading systems—Texas, North Carolina, and Florida before vouchers —low performing schools (sometimes referred to as “F” schools) produced gains quite similar to those of the Florida voucher program. Thus, the “scarlet letter” effect from identifying low-performing schools is as plausible an explanation for the test score gains as is the voucher threat."