School Vouchers: A Harmful Choice
Since entering office in January, President George W. Bush has given education reform high priority on his agenda. One element of his four-point initiative involves the implementation of school vouchers. A voucher, as defined in The American Heritage Dictionary, is a "certificate representing a credit against future expenditures." (The American Heritage) By diverting tax dollars from public schools to private institutions through the use of vouchers, America's public education system will become less effective, students from low income families will be set further behind, and the First Amendment will be directly violated.
The conservative economist Milton Friedman first suggested the concept of school vouchers in 1955. He laid out a plan, "to return tax monies to parents of school-aged children for tuition use in a variety of authorized public and private educational settings." (Noll 193) Now, President Bush embraces Friedman's philosophy with his four-point education initiative. In his plan, Bush advocates (1) annual testing in reading and math in every primary grade; (2) empowering schools and school districts to implement reforms; and (3) federal government assistance in transition to higher standards. Most significantly, Bush says in his final point, (4) "If any school consistently fails to meet minimal standards for three consecutive years, vouchers will be offered so that children can go to the school of their selection, rather than the choice of the government." (Thomas 1) For the most part, liberal Democrats, such as Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, agree with the first three elements of Bush's proposal; but party lines are drawn over vouchers (Thomas 1). Under Bush's proposal, students attending public schools that fail to meet minimal standards for three consecutive years will be granted a $1,500 per year voucher to assist low-income families in covering the expense of after-school tutoring or private school tuition (Brownstein 2).
Over the past ten years, a few voucher programs have been put into effect in some states. In 1990, the first American voucher program was developed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The program, after many court challenges, is still operating today with an expanded number of children who qualify to participate (Knowles 1). Six years later, Cleveland, Ohio, adopted a similar voucher plan, which was found to be unconstitutional by a U.S. district court judge in December 1999. That same year, Florida passed a law allowing students, regardless of income, to receive up to $4,000 toward private school tuition if the public schools they currently attend get F's from the State Education Panel in two of four successive years (Knowles 1). However, the program continues to operate pending further judicial review (Knowles 2). In Congress, voucher programs have met a considerably higher degree of opposition. An appropriations bill that called for an experimental plan for tax support of...