School Choice: Vouchers, Scholarships And More

School Choice: Vouchers, Scholarships And More

According to, "School choice is a term for K–12 public education options in the United States, describing a wide array of programs offering students and their families alternatives to publicly provided schools, to which students are generally assigned by the location of their family residence." Vouchers have been in the headlines for almost thirty years. So this is not a new issue, although the media attention sometimes implies that vouchers are a new idea. A timeline is helpful when dealing with a controversial issue such as school vouchers. But before we do that, what are vouchers?

EdChoice describes vouchers as:

"School vouchers give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using all or part of the public funding set aside for their children’s education. Under such a program, funds typically spent by a school district would be allocated to a participating family in the form of a voucher to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s private school, including both religious and non-religious options."

You will hear vouchers called a variety of names such as parental choice, education grants, scholarships, tuition grants, to list but a few of the names you will encounter for vouchers. 15 states and the District of Columbia currently offer 26 voucher programs. School Voucher Laws State-by-State Comparison offers a useful table comparing the voucher programs offered in states which have them.

Why are vouchers controversial?

Now that you have access to the data which will inform your thinking, let's tackle the big question, namely, why are vouchers controversial? According to the national teachers' associations - The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - voucher programs in all their various formats siphon funds away from public schools. Secondly, the academic results which were supposed to have been one reason why voucher programs were needed apparently have shown little improvement over the results achieved in public schools.

The NEA has an extensive list of research papers on vouchers. While I cannot vouch for the viewpoints or agendas behind these papers, I think that the data is worth reviewing. You and I as parents want results, good results, when we send our children to any school. So, if a voucher program in your state or town looks like it might be what you need, take the time to review the data which is in most cases available either on the state's department of education website or on the local school district's website.

The other point to consider is that the amount of the voucher will probably not cover the full cost of tuition at the private school you wish to use the voucher for. Furthermore, not every private school accepts vouchers. So, take time to get answers to these important questions.

Other School Choice Options

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines charter schools as follows:

"Charter schools are independently-operated public schools that have the freedom to design classrooms that meet their students’ needs. All charter schools operate under a contract with a charter school authorizer – usually a nonprofit organization, government agency, or university – that holds them accountable to the high standards outlined in their “charter.” It is common to see charter schools led by former teachers who wanted to take the lessons they learned in the classroom and apply those lessons to an entire school."

Timeline of School CHoice events

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