LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS®
Fact Sheet: School Voucher Programs
Delegates to the 1999 LWVMD Convention adopted a "Study to develop League Positions on charter schools, vouchers, and possibly other alternatives to the traditional public education system". Consensus was taken on the Charter Schools portion of the Study in December, 2000.
The 2000 LWVMD Council voted to change the scope of work for vouchers to a Concurrence with recommendations of a LWVMD resource committee, and/or Positions reached by another League or Leagues. The proposed Positions for Concurrence follows.
Proposed Concurrence Position for SCHOOL VOUCHER PROGRAMS:
Action to oppose using public funds for private schools for vouchers for elementary and secondary school students. Voucher programs permit parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools.
Background: Private-school choice options began with tuition tax credit programs that provide state income tax credits for tuition, books or transportation costs for students attending private schools. The first use of such credits was in the South following Brown v. Board of Education. As those programs were found to be overt efforts to escape integration, they were ruled unconstitutional. The first program without such an intent began in Minnesota in 1967 and was finally ruled constitutional in 1983. That case, Mueller v. Allen, remains the precedent in the constitutional battle over private-school choice. Subsequent to the Mueller decision, a number of states enacted varying versions of tuition tax credits.
Numerous proposals have been made in the last decade for voucher programs to provide families with direct public subsidies to attend private schools. National legislation has been proposed several times, with the most prominent being President George H. W. Bush's proposal for a "A GI Bill for children" in 1992. Major statewide referenda on vouchers have occurred, and numerous state legislative proposals have been made for statewide vouchers or programs targeted on specific cities and/or low-income families. The first voucher program implemented is the one in Milwaukee. That program has been operating since 1990, but did not originally include religious schools. It was expanded in June 1995 to include religious schools.
In December 2000, a federal appeals court ruled that the voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio (which began in 1995), violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The Cleveland case, which is likely to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, has the potential to determine whether and how any state-wide voucher program can include parochial schools. Today 60% of the 3,761 Cleveland kids using vouchers come from families with incomes at or below the poverty line, and 96% of the kids who use vouchers go to sectarian schools.
The Cleveland program offers vouchers worth a maximum of just $2,250, so that not much money will get siphoned away from public schools, thus placating voucher opponents. The voucher amount more than covers Catholic-school tuition, which in Cleveland averages $1,200 a year (because of church subsidies and teacher salaries about half as high as the public school average). But tuition at even the least expensive nonsectarian private schools is more than $5,000. (Setback for Vouchers, Time Magazine, Dec. 25, 2000, p. 142)
There are five publicly funded school voucher programs around the country. Children in publicly funded school voucher programs:
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin 8,000
- Maine 14,541
- Vermont 6,300
- Cleveland, Ohio 3,761
- Pensacola, Florida 52
Note: In Vermont and Maine, vouchers are available to rural students where there are no public schools, but they cannot be used at religious schools.
Few issues in education are as hotly debated as vouchers (taxpayer-financed tuition aid) that parents can use to send their children to private schools. Advocates of the idea make a two-fold argument: Such aid serves the cause of equity by enabling lower-income children, just like their wealthier peers, to escape troubled public schools; and it creates competition that will spur public education to improve. Voucher proponents often describe the public system as a monopoly that ill-serves its most vulnerable clients. They also argue that vouchers go to parents who make the decisions about where their kids will go to school. Vouchers are not given to schools.
Opponents of vouchers argue that such programs jeopardize the right of every child equal access to high-quality public schooling. Vouchers treat learning like a commodity instead of a public good, and the free market doesn't always work in the interest of the consumer. Increasingly, voucher foes are also raising issues of school accountability, contending that allowing private schools to take public money with little oversight opens the door to mismanagement and even corruption. The biggest question in the voucher debate is whether the initiatives create an unconstitutional relationship between church and state.
Institute for Justice, Heritage Foundation, Dec., 2000;
"Education Week on the WEB", Dec. 12, 2000)