Myths Surrounding School Vouchers

February 3, 2014

Too many myths surround school choice voucher programs, says Casey Given, a political commentator for Young Voices.

Despite economist Milton Friedman's efforts to bring school choice arguments to the mainstream, myths still persist and they have prevented voucher programs from growing to their full potential. Given addresses three myths that Friedman focused on in his 1980 PBS series "Free to Choose."

Myth 1: School vouchers increase segregation.

  • Opponents of vouchers have expressed concern that the program would mainly be used by those of the middle and upper classes, with some saying that the program would lead to "white flight."
  • But this has not happened. Nearly every private voucher program has income eligibility caps below 300 percent of the poverty line. And schools today are more diverse, bringing students from different socioeconomic backgrounds into the same educational institutions.

Myth 2: Poor families do not have enough information to choose the best schools.

  • Those who espouse this view say that parents are not in a position to know what constitutes a solid education, with many believing that poor families will not take the time, or have the resources, to investigate schools.
  • It is not the case that schools know better than parents how to find a quality education, and low-income parents have been very motivated to find a good school for their children. In a survey of Georgia's voucher program, the Friedman Foundation found that both poor and non-disadvantaged parents took an average of five steps to investigate school quality, including touring the school and asking others about its quality.

Myth 3: Poverty, not teacher quality, is the root of the educational problem.

  • This is one of the most popular myths today.
  • While poverty does affect student achievement -- children who are malnourished will not perform as well, for example -- it does not mean that public schools should be mediocre.
  • Countless studies have found that voucher programs in the poorest areas lead to higher graduation and college enrollment rates than public schools in the same area.

In the last three decades, the cost of a public school education has doubled, while educational progress has stagnated. Getting past the myths surrounding school vouchers is the first step to actually improving education for children across the United States.

Source: Casey Given, "The Myths of School Vouchers, Then and Now," Foundation for Economic Education, January 7, 2014.

 

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