Accessibility links

Breaking News

After 50 Years, Use of School Vouchers Is Still Limited

I’m Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Some American children get a private education paid for with public money. School choice programs let parents move their child out of a failing public school. The parents can choose a private school and pay for it with a government payment voucher.

It was fifty years ago when the economist Milton Friedman proposed a voucher system to improve American education. His work, "The Role of Government in Education," appeared in the nineteen fifty-five book Economics and the Public Interest.

Today, about thirty-six thousand students are served by vouchers. The programs are in the city of Washington, D.C., and three of the fifty states: Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. The number of students will grow with fourteen thousand new vouchers just approved by lawmakers in Ohio. And Utah will offer a voucher program for disabled students.

A few states offer tax credits or other forms of support to help parents pay for private schools.

One objection to vouchers has to do with the fact that most private schools are religious. The Constitution separates government and religion. Voucher critics argue that the use of public money for religious schools is unconstitutional.

The United States Supreme Court has rejected this argument. In two thousand two, it ruled that a voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, was neutral toward religion. The court said any tax money that went to religious schools was the result of individual decisions. Also, the vouchers let parents choose other kinds of schools. The Florida Supreme Court is now considering a similar case in that state.

Opponents of vouchers say public schools should get more money so all children can attend good schools near their home.

Yet some people think all families should be offered vouchers, not just poor ones. Milton Friedman and his wife started the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to work for school choice. It says the goal is to improve, through competition, the quality of education for all.

Milton Friedman had his ninety-third birthday on Sunday. The Nobel Prize-winning economist has been talking to reporters about the fiftieth anniversary of his proposal. Mister Friedman told Education Week that he thinks fifty years from now, all students will be served by school vouchers.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are all on the Web at I’m Shep O'Neal.