Voucher Programs Losing Steam in School Choice Debate
Tuition voucher program support has been withering under the Obama administration as it phases out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, a federally funded voucher program signed into law in 2004, has provided over 3,700 students in Washington, D.C., with scholarships to attend private schools. The administration's primary reasoning, it appears, has been strong union opposition to school vouchers.
The fourth and final evaluation of the D.C. program, released June 22, was federally mandated and conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences (IE S) and led by Patrick Wolf, education reform professor at the University of Arkansas. According to the study, 82 percent of voucher students graduated high school, as opposed to 70 percent of students who were offered a voucher but chose not to use it.
"The academic attainment results — the graduation rates — have certainly been one of the most successful aspects of the program," says Lindsey Burke, education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Burke notes that President Obama himself was the recipient of a voucher scholarship to attend private school and sends his two daughters to a private school in the D.C. area. "No one would ever begrudge the president and members of Congress for making the best education decisions possible for their children, but that opportunity should be expanded to all children."
Critics, however, maintain that vouchers undermine the public education system and wouldn't be necessary if public schools were funded properly.
"It's a bizarre issue when two core constituencies are at opposite ends of the spectrum," says John Merrifield, professor of economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio and director of the EG West Institute for Effective Schooling, referring to the Democratic conundrum of teachers' unions ardently opposing vouchers while African Americans, large recipients of vouchers, generally support them.
According to Merrifield, however, keeping school choice options alive between the private and public sector is important. "Schools don't differ nearly as much as the kids do. One size does not fit all, even if the school is great."