NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Progressive Case For School Vouchers

October 6, 1999

There is a progressive case for education vouchers, Matthew Miller argued recently in Atlantic Monthly. In fact, civil rights attorneys John E. Coons and Stephen B. Sugarman cited vouchers as a potential remedy for California's unequal school finance system, which in 1971 they successfully argued was unconstitutional.

A progressive rationale for vouchers compatible with Milton Friedman's universal voucher proposal from 1955 can be argued thusly:

  • The property-tax based system of public school financing results in wide disparities in education resources between suburban school districts and urban schools.
  • Upper-income families have public school choice because they can afford to move to whichever suburban district has better schools.
  • Vouchers would give poor families the same resources to spend on their children's education as middle- and upper-income suburban families -- in effect, equalizing funding statewide.
  • And, as Friedman argued, although government pays for education because it benefits society, it is not necessary or even desirable for it to deliver the service -- just as the federal government financed private and public college tuitions under the G.I. Bill, but did not run the universities.

Thus a voucher plan could be constructed that provides adequate funding -- with adjustments for the education of disabled and disadvantaged children -- and gives families a choice of competing public and private schools.

So far, the private and publicly financed voucher programs that are operating or have been authorized will serve about 0.1 percent of students. Miller says an adequately funded, large scale voucher test involving millions of kids would actually garner wider support than the pilot programs underway, citing, for example, the interest of Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in such a program.

Source: Matthew Miller, "A Bold Experiment to Fix City Schools," Atlantic Monthly, July 1999.


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