The Problem with School Vouchers

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Click here for a PDF of our paper The Problem with School Vouchers Policy Brief

The “school choice” movement in Pennsylvania has been gaining steam over the past several months, and while past attempts to implement a voucher program in Pennsylvania have been unsuccessful, the idea has been reintroduced in the form on Senate Bill 1.  Pennsylvania has made tremendous strides in public education in recent years, stemming directly from targeted investments that have been made, but vouchers pose a grave risk of derailing this progress and further hindering our economic recovery.  Vouchers simply do not solve the problems that exist in public education, and here’s why…

Voucher programs lack accountability, both fiscally and academically.

  • Accountability for the use of taxpayer money is a key value in this country.  We need to know that our hard earned money is being spent wisely.  Private institutions, not being bound by traditional measurements of student progress, would not be obligated to demonstrate that students are learning.  We use things like standardized tests in public schools to make sure that those buildings are functioning properly; in a voucher system we would have no idea if kids were learning the skills they need to get a good job and become active, contributing members of society.
  • Aside from the lack of reporting on academic progress, private schools also have no obligation to provide financial reporting.  In the context of a voucher program, we would have no way of knowing exactly what our money was being spent on, eliminating our ability to target waste or fraud.
  • There is no proof that voucher programs improve student achievement.  Programs in Washington D.C., Milwaukee and Cleveland have shown no conclusive evidence of their effectiveness.

Voucher programs are expensive.

  • SB 1 would cost Pennsylvanians anywhere from $800 million to $1 billion.
  • The basic education cuts that would accompany a voucher program would increase the financial burden on local communities in the form of increased property taxes.
  • Vouchers do not offer true school choice.
  • Access is a key issue in education.  All kids deserve an opportunity to learn, but within a voucher program schools would choose the students, not the other way around.  Private schools could choose to reject students with special needs, or for any other reason.
  • Low income families will still be left with limited choices in situations where vouchers do not cover the full cost of tuition.

Vouchers are unconstitutional.

  • Pennsylvania’s state constitution mandates that the General Assembly provide a “thorough and efficient” public education system.  This is the only service mandated by our constitution.

We need our policymakers to turn their attention to real solutions, rather than being distracted by unproven programs that drain valuable taxpayer money. The General Assembly needs to take a look at what is working in public schools and how to implement those practices across the board. Creating a more equitable funding system, closing the achievement gap and improving teacher quality and accountability are real solutions that must be acted on for Pennsylvania to move forward.