RWN VS. The NEA On School Vouchers

RWN reader Matt Enlow sent me an email that said the following,

Every time you’ve written about school vouchers, I’ve found myself agreeing with you. Of course, I knew very little to begin with, and I thought I would go looking for opposing views. I found some, of all places, on the NEA website.

It would be great, for ignoramuses such as myself, if you could tackle
these or other common objections in a future post.

Great site, keep it up,

Matt Enlow
Somerville, MA

I took a look at the case the NEA made against vouchers and quite frankly, I found it to be extraordinarily weak. Here’s what the NEA had to say (in italics) and my responses follow…

The Educational Case Against Vouchers

Student achievement ought to be the driving force behind any education reform initiative. See what research says about the relationship between vouchers and student achievement.

Actually, I’ve read a lot about this issue and I’ve never seen any “research” that says children learn less in private schools than public ones, however I have seen lots of stories like this one that feature public schools doing a mediocre job.

Americans want consistent standards for students. Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

There’s absolutely no reason why private and public school students can’t be asked to meet the exact same standards — if the kids taught in public school can keep up.

NEA and its affiliates support direct efforts to improve public schools. There is no need to set up new threats to schools for not performing. What is needed is help for the students, teachers, and schools who are struggling.

If our public school system was doing a great job, you wouldn’t have so many people agitating for vouchers. People push for vouchers because our public school system isn’t doing the job.

The Social Case Against Vouchers

A voucher lottery is a terrible way to determine access to an education. True equity means the ability for every child to attend a good school in the neighborhood.

I favor every parent being given a voucher and being allowed to vote with their feet on which school, private or public, that their child goes to.

Vouchers were not designed to help low-income children. Milton Friedman, the “grandfather” of vouchers, dismissed the notion that vouchers could help low-income families, saying “it is essential that no conditions be attached to the acceptance of vouchers that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to experiment.”

The quote listed has nothing to do with dismissing the “notion that vouchers could help low-income families”. Furthermore, vouchers obviously benefit poor and lower middle class families who can’t possibly afford to send their kids to private schools.

A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society. America’s success has been built on our ability to unify our diverse populations.

Arguing that letting parents decide which school to send their children to would encourage stratification seems like a fairly specious argument. Should we all be forced to go to the same movies, restaurants, and plays in order to prevent “stratification”?

The Legal Case Against Vouchers

About 85 percent of private schools are religious. Vouchers tend to be a means of circumventing the Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practice and instruction.

#1) There simply is no “Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practice and instruction”. It’s unconstitutional for Congress to make a “law respecting an establishment of religion”. Big difference.

#2) If vouchers came into play on a widespread scale, the percentage of religious schools would drop precipitously because private schools would then be catering to the general public, instead of a “niche group”, people concerned about sending their kids to “Godless” public schools.

The Political Landscape

Each year, about $65 million dollars is spent by foundations and individuals to promote vouchers. In election years, voucher advocates spend even more on ballot measures and in support of pro-voucher candidates.


In the words of political strategist, Grover Norquist, “We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money…”

That’s true and as we’ve seen over and over again, spending more money on public schools doesn’t appear to improve performance.

Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about “school choice” and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy. From Milton Friedman’s first proposals, through the tuition tax credit proposals of Ronald Reagan, through the voucher proposals on ballots in California, Colorado, and elsewhere, privatization strategies are about subsidizing tuition for students in private schools, not expanding opportunities for low-income children.

This is a bizarre argument since the “elite” in society can already afford private schools and therefore the people who would benefit the most from a voucher program would be the poor and lower middle-class.

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