NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Publicly Funded School Vouchers Are Available To Few Students

September 19, 2002

In recent history, courts have worked to push religion out of public life. Sectarian institutions, in fact, were admitted to the public square only insofar as they secularized their activities and kept their religion behind closed doors. Consequently, many now fear that publicly funded school choice will undermine religious schools' missions.

However, observers conclude that given the extraordinary hullabaloo surrounding school choice's recent victory in the Supreme Court, it's surprising to realize how few choices are actually being made.

  • Cleveland offers educational vouchers to just over 3,700 of the city's 75,000 students.
  • In Milwaukee, 10,739 students -- about 10 percent of the city's schoolchildren -- attend a school of their choice with public support.
  • And in Florida, which maintains the country's first and only statewide school choice program, only 50 students currently receive vouchers.
  • All told, the nation's three publicly funded voucher programs offer educational options to about 0.0003 percent of American students.

Both the Cleveland and Milwaukee programs force participating schools to relinquish control of their admissions policies. Admissions decisions must be made by lottery, ensuring nondiscriminatory access. These regulations, and concern about further state intervention in school administration, prompted the Milwaukee Archdiocese to urge 37 parochial schools not to participate in the program. The Wisconsin Evangelical Synod's 18 parish schools in Milwaukee are not, for the most part, accepting voucher children. In this way, Milwaukee is representative of a larger trend.

A 1998 report by the Department of Education found that 46 percent of religious schools in 22 urban areas nationwide would not participate in a school choice program that required a lottery system in admissions. Fully 86 percent of religious schools would refuse to participate in a program that required them to offer exemptions from religious activities.

Source: Steven Menashi, "The Church-State Tangle," Policy Review, August-September 2002, Hoover Institution.


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