After many years of being rebuffed at the polls, the pro-voucher forces seemed to have given up. Voucher supporters turned to charter schools as their best hope for wresting public dollars out of public schools and putting them into private hands. But in recent years, vouchers have made a comeback. The Wisconsin legislature approved vouchers for Milwaukee in 1990, and the Supreme Court refused to overturn the law. Then the Ohio legislature approved vouchers in Cleveland, and a Republican-controlled Congress installed vouchers in the D.C. Schools. Other states have enacted tax credits or other means of subsidizing nonpublic schools, and few are willing to cal their voucher programs by their true name. instead they are “opportunity scholarships,” because they know the public doesn’t like vouchers. Thus far, the evaluations have failed to show any academic advantages for voucher schools. Some have a higher graduation rate than their peers in public schools, but their attrition rates are so high that it’s hard to cite the graduation rate (of those who did not drop out) as a victory. Despite the lack of results, and despite the lack of any popular mandate, the voucher movement continues to grow.
As I have learned in various public debates, voucher proponents make outlandish claims. Evidence is irrelevant. They claim success even when none exists.
It is time, I thought, to consider the philosophical and political case against vouchers. In this post, it is stated by Nicholas Meier. It may not surprise you to learn that Nick Meier is the son of famed progressive educator Deborah Meier.
Nick Meier’s first argument against vouchers is economic. Society is unwilling to pay the cost of elite private schools for all.
His second argument is about who gets to choose:
“The other issue is who chooses. Most private schools have selective admission, and limited space. Since unlike public schools they get to choose their students, even if the voucher fully paid for them (which of course it will not), they would still most likely cream the easiest students to teach, leaving the more difficult to teach children in the public schools.
“These two factors in combination would end up subsidizing private schools and middle and upper class families at the expense of public schools and the poor that are left in them. This would further segregate our schooling system into the haves and the have-nots.
“Since I have never heard voucher proponents either suggest that vouchers should be at the levels necessary to have them cover the full cost of most private schools, nor to force private schools to take those children, I find their arguments disingenuous.”
Not even charter schools pass muster, in Meier’s view:
“Why I still do not favor even this [charter schools] is that it fundamentally changes the purpose of public schools. Traditionally we have considered the education of the next generation to be a concern of society as a whole. In fact, virtually every society has considered this to be true throughout history. For this reason, locally elected school boards have governed our public schools.
“Charter schools and voucher systems make schooling a private consumer choice. In the charter and voucher systems consumers choose among the choices offered them, but have no guaranteed right to have a say about the schooling other than making that choice. Those who do not have children in the schools have no say at all. Private schools are run privately, and do not have to answer to the public. Charter schools usually have to answer for test scores and financial responsibility, but even there it is to the state and not in any direct way to the local public. While charter schools have governing boards, they select their own members of those boards. This gives control of the content of schooling to those who run the schools, often for-profit concerns, but even if not, private concerns of some sort. While our government is not perfect, should I really trust those who have private agendas and do not have to answer to the public to decide the how and what of our next generation’s schooling? Public school boards are elected, and have open meetings; private schools do not have to. Even if the charters do have open meetings, they are often run by national organizations and so are inaccessible and would probably just say, “Don’t send you child here if you don’t like our agenda.”
“Vouchers and charters are about redefining the public as consumers rather than citizens, which is part of a larger corporate agenda to destroy public institutions and the limit the power of the public.
“For the above (and other) reasons, I see truly public schools as the only answer for those committed to a democratic society.”