NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Vouchers Delight Mariana Islanders

June 10, 1997

Parents wishing to liberate their children from the U.S. public school system might want to move to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) -- where school vouchers are about to become universal. And they enjoy almost universal support among both political parties, the business community, parent-teacher associations and even many public school officials.

Officials say vouchers' popularity in the Marianas -- a U.S. commonwealth 10,000 miles from Washington -- can be explained in three words: no teachers' unions. Thus, there was no self-interested opposition when parents got upset by the status quo.

  • The student population of the CNMI is 12,000 and growing, with $5,000 (roughly the U.S. national average) being spent annually to educate each student under the disappearing public school regime.
  • Parents and policy-makers alike got fed up when roughly three-fourths of CNMI's students ranked in the bottom quarter on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and high school and college drop-out rates soared.
  • The voucher program, named the Parental Choice Scholarship Program, is scheduled to be implemented as early as this fall.

Two features distinguish the Mariana's voucher system from programs already being tested in some American cities.

  • It will be the first to deliver a scholarship -- worth around $1,500 -- to every student, following students to whichever schools, public or private, their families select.
  • Since some children will be able to attend private schools which might previously have been above their parents' budgets, the race for their funds will create competition between all schools -- public and private.
  • Second, rather than allowing a central educational bureaucracy to appropriate funds to individual schools -- often siphoning off a large chunk -- the actual consumers will pay substantial portions of the educational bill.

Thus, the schools that are the most responsive and innovative -- rather than those that are most politically favored -- will reap the greatest financial rewards.

A prominent champion of school reform, Arizona's Education Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, urges school district policy-makers to "strap the money to the child's back" in order to give parents choice and make schools accountable to them.

Source: Clint Bolick (Institute for Justice), "Pacific Vouchers: If They Work Here...," Wall Street Journal, June 10, 1997.


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