NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Decision On Wisconsin Vouchers

November 11, 1998

Proponents of school choice applauded this week's Supreme Court decision to let stand Wisconsin's school voucher program, but argue it is only one step in the right direction.

  • By not reviewing the Wisconsin program, the court left unresolved the question of public funding of students of religious schools.
  • A 1973 decision struck down a voucher program based on the separation of church and state.
  • The new decision doesn't overturn the earlier ruling; it merely gives states a blueprint for voucher programs that will be acceptable.

The Wisconsin program, which provides up to $5,000 to low income parents for tuition at private schools, has increased student achievement levels and reduced truancy and dropout rates.

The majority of students still attend public schools, however, and choice proponents argue that when a government controls a part of the marketplace -- as it does in public education -- the public loses:

  • Farm subsidies were fine for farmers, but the public wound up paying higher food prices.
  • Health care subsidies and third-party payment systems made medical care seem free -- until prices accelerated and rationing set in.
  • Government controlled prices and supplies in a variety of fields -- trucking, oil, airlines and banking -- kept consumer prices high.

Public education, choice advocates argue, is simply an area in which consumers don't have to pay for the product (except through taxes), meaning providers don't have to worry about serving them.

Source: Editorial, "Free To Choose," Investor's Business Daily, November 11, 1998.


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