More than 50 years have passed since Milton Friedman first proposed private school vouchers
as a public policy. During that time, proponents have spent hundreds of millions of dollars
attempting to convince a skeptical public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five
decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven and unpopular. Opposition to
vouchers emanates from constitutional and democratic concerns, as well as from practical and
policy-related flaws, including many of those listed below.
Either you’re for accountability or you’re not —Vouchers eliminate public
accountability. Vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that do not face stateapproved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open
meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not
face the public accountability requirements contained in state and federal laws,
including special education laws. They also do not have to accept all students.
Vouchers divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools—Vouchers divert
attention, commitment and dollars from public schools to pay private school tuition for
a few students, including many who already attend private school. A dollar spent on a
tuition voucher is a dollar drained from public education. Even proposals that
purportedly create a “new” funding stream to pay for vouchers miss the mark: if new
public money is available for education it should be invested in strengthening the
schools that educate the vast majority of our students and are accountable to all
taxpayers – our public schools.
Vouchers are no way to raise student achievement for all—Despite built-in screening
advantages for private schools, a GAO report to Congress on the Cleveland and
Milwaukee voucher programs noted that the most credible research found “little or no
difference in voucher and public school students’ performance.” The federal evaluation
of the Washington, D.C. voucher experiment discovered the same two years running.
Vouchers waste taxpayer money—Vouchers force taxpayers to support two school
systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the
taxpayers supporting it. Existing private school students usually are eligible to receive
vouchers, creating a new cost to taxpayers.2
Vouchers leave behind many students, including those with the greatest needs—
Vouchers leave behind many disadvantaged students because private schools may not
accept them or do not offer the special services they need.
Vouchers give choices to private schools, not parents—Private schools decide if they
want to accept vouchers, and then how many students they want to admit. And even if
a voucher student does gain acceptance into a private school, the school can later reject
him or her for numerous reasons.
Vouchers remain publicly unpopular—Utah voters, in 2007, overwhelmingly voted to
repeal a state voucher program by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. This marked
time in 11 referenda over the past 30 years that voters have decisively rejected
specific voucher or tuition tax credit proposals.
The Voters’ Choice:
A History of State Referenda on Vouchers and Tuition Tax Credits
(including Washington, D.C.)
Year Proposal Result
Maryland 1972 Vouchers Rejected 55% to 45%
Michigan 1978 Vouchers Rejected 75% to 26%
Washington, D.C. 1981 Tuition tax credits Rejected 89% to 11%
Oregon 1990 Tuition tax credits Rejected 67% to 33%
Colorado 1992 Vouchers Rejected 67% to 33%
California 1993 Vouchers Rejected 70% to 30%
Washington 1996 Vouchers Rejected 64% to 36%
Colorado 1998 Tuition tax credits Rejected 60% to 40%
Michigan 2000 Vouchers Rejected 69% to 31%
California 2000 Vouchers Rejected 71% to 20%
Utah* 2007 Vouchers Rejected 68% to 32%
*Voters in Utah repealed a program already created by the state Legislature, as opposed to voting on a
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