NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Vouchers Are Topic Du Jour

February 19, 2002

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the future of the school voucher experiment is not the only issue at stake. Many analysts believe the future success of millions of American students -- many of them minorities -- hangs in the balance.

Opponents of vouchers argue that because vouchers are being used for instruction in Cleveland's Catholic schools, the program represents an unconstitutional trespass on the separation of church and state. But voucher defendants point out that the state isn't choosing religious schools -- parents are.

Black students are getting short-changed by public education -- and their parents know it. Some 4,195 students in Cleveland now use vouchers -- worth up to $2,250 each -- to escape one of the worst school districts in America, in the judgment of education specialists.

  • Nearly three-quarters of Cleveland's public school attendees never receive a high school diploma.
  • Only about one-third of the city's fourth-graders are proficient in math, reading and science.
  • The most recent ratings show the city's public schools meeting only four of the state's 27 performance standards.
  • Since about $8,000 is being spent annually in Cleveland's public schools to educate each pupil, the problem isn't money.

The Court's Cleveland decision will determine the future of the voucher program nationally. And the stakes are huge. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic fourth-graders across the land are functionally illiterate -- twice the percentage for whites.

Experts say that what makes this so alarming is that a child who isn't reading at level by that age most likely never will.

Source: Editorial, "Our Brown v. Board," Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2002.


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