Are school vouchers really the answer?

By Jake Murray

With Mitt Romney’s announcement of his education agenda, the idea of vouchers for families to use to pay for private and parochial school tuition has resurfaced with a vengeance.  The state of Louisiana has moved from idea to action, with plans to launch a statewide initiative this fall to provide public vouchers to thousands of poor and middle-class families, covering the cost of tuition at over 120 private schools.  In addition to Louisiana, eight states have private school scholarship programs and at least nine other states are considering them.

Vouchers –a market-based solution for improving education outcomes and countering the perceived underperformance of public schools—appeal to families and community leaders across the political spectrum.  Why not give families—especially low income families—the choice to send their children to a wide range of schools?  And would not competition for vouchers compel both public schools and private schools to improve quality?

Jake Murray

In theory, yes.  In reality, no.  Large-scale and long-term school-choice and voucher initiatives, such as that in Milwaukee , have yielded modest results. Students using vouchers to attend private schools have fared only slightly better than students remaining in public schools on academic tests, in many cases results have been equivocal.

That public schools have performed just as well as private schools is, in fact, remarkable.  When families use vouchers to opt out of public schools, these schools are left with greater concentrations of high need students (English Language Learners and Special Education students), often receive less per pupil funding, and face higher teacher turnover rates.

So let’s hold off on a national policy leap to school vouchers.  For my money, the solution to better school rests with human capital— skilled and committed leaders and teachers, and engaged families—not whether a school’s organizational classification is public or private—or charter for that matter.


This article was written in response to an article called “The rise of neovouchers” which is available  here .
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as an organizational leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.