Since the early 1990s, school vouchers and other schemes have used taxpayers’ money to pay for all or part of the costs of tuition to private schools. Despite some supporters’ claims, research shows that vouchers don’t improve outcomes for kids who receive them or drive improvements in nearby neighborhood schools.
Vouchers divert funding from schools that serve the vast majority of students. They also become a distraction from the more serious discussions we need to have about school policies and practices that actually work. When politicians push vouchers, less attention is paid to reducing class sizes, offering high-quality early childhood education, improving curriculum, supporting teachers, engaging parents, and building community support—all of which, evidence shows, can help students and schools.
Although much of the pro-voucher rhetoric uses the word “choice,” in practice it is the private schools that choose the kids, not the other way around. In areas where voucher programs exist, private school operators decide whether they want taxpayers to subsidize their schools. They also decide how many, if any, voucher students they will admit.
Vouchers are unpopular with the public, having been rejected—resoundingly and repeatedly—when they are on the ballot. To deceive the public, proponents have created “stealth voucher” programs with more appealing names, such as tuition tax credits or opportunity scholarships. But the outcome is the same—public money subsidizing private school tuition, less accountability for taxpayers’ dollars, a false hope for a handful of kids, and fewer resources for school reforms that actually work.