Ohio Gov. Bob Taft wants to give $3,500 vouchers to students in schools where at least two-thirds of students have failed to meet state math and reading standards for three years in a row. Currently, 71 schools meet that description.
Michael Meckler analyzes the plan.
The vouchers, each valued at up to $3500, could be used only at “chartered, non-public schools” and must be accepted as full compensation for school tuition for the year. The public school district would have its state funding cut by the amount of voucher money used by students in the district.
Not all that many private schools in Ohio are “chartered”, primarily because such schools face additional bureaucratic regulations and accountability procedures. In the Cleveland voucher program, most of the “chartered” private schools are Catholic schools whose centralized and experienced administration is able to handle these additional requirements. If expanded statewide, it is anticipated that Catholic schools, along with a few other Christian schools and some start-up non-religious schools, would be the only private schools able to afford to educate students at the state’s reimbursement rate.
Cleveland’s voucher students perform only slightly better than non-voucher students after four years, despite starting out with higher scores, Meckler writes. But parents prefer the learning environment at private schools.
In the later study, safety and discipline were primary reasons cited by Cleveland parents for using vouchers to send their children to private schools. In other words, according to objective measures such as test scores, private schools did not outperform public schools. Yet parents were more concerned that their children spend their days in an orderly, secure environment than with how much learning was actually taking place.
Order is not a frill for low-income parents. Many live in fear that their teen-agers will be recruited into gangs; they want a school that will teach an alternative to street values.