May 24, 2024

Hilary Wething & Josh Bivens:Vouchers undermine efforts to provide an excellent public education for all

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Writing for the Economic Policy Institute, Hilary Wething and Josh Bivens explain the damaging effects of school vouchers.

Since the early 2000s, many states have introduced significant voucher programs to provide public financing for private school education. These voucher programs are deeply damaging to efforts to offer an excellent public education for all U.S. children—and this is in fact often the intention of those pushing these programs. In this post we argue that:

  • Public education is worth preserving—it should be seen as one of the most important achievements in our country’s history and crucial for the social and economic welfare of future generations.
  • The economic logic behind voucher programs is weak; it rests on ideological commitments to markets over public provision of goods and services, even in realms of activity where the virtues of markets do not hold—like public education.
  • Most damagingly, introducing significant voucher programs has gone hand in hand with steep declines in public school spending relative to states that have not adopted these policies.
    • This spending stagnation has had profound effects in generating larger “adequacy gaps” in school funding in voucher states.
  • Paradoxically, even while they take resources away from public schools, many newly introduced voucher programs could result in more total state spending in coming years.
    • This would be a particularly perverse result given the expansive research literature showing that vouchers do not improve educational outcomes. In essence, states that have introduced large-scale voucher programs are looking to substitute a more expensive and less effective system for educating kids than public education. The only reason for this policy thrust is ideology rooted in hostility to public education.

There’s much to dig through in their article, but the conclusion is clear.

Vouchers are not a cost-free policy that simply adds on another education option for children—they are instead an intentional attack on universal public education, one of the crown jewels of U.S. society. Vouchers make no coherent economic sense, and the evidence shows that vouchers harm student achievement and expose state budgets to large future obligations that are hard to forecast, even while they divert spending away from public education. Our analysis shows that states that have introduced significant voucher programs over the past decade and a half have experienced significant declines in per-pupil spending relative to states without voucher programs. In short, the data clearly show that choosing to implement vouchers programs takes funding away from public education. The public spending declines associated with the introduction of vouchers will reliably cause significantly worse educational outcomes and will harm kids in high-poverty neighborhoods more than kids in low-poverty neighborhoods.

The rise of vouchers is especially damaging given that we now know what does boost educational outcomes: more spending on public education. Leaving these potential gains on the table and promoting voucher programs instead of investing in public education demonstrates that kids’ education is not a priority.

Read the full article here. 

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