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GOVERNMENT-FUNDED VOUCHERS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Current status & opinion polls

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Sponsored link.


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Current status of voucher systems:

Voters have rejected ballot initiatives to create voucher systems in California, Colorado and Washington.

Florida, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin have all passed voucher laws. Many have been found unconstitutional by the courts. Currently active voucher programs exist in:

bulletMilwaukee, WI. During the 2001-02 school year, the loss of "...averages out to only about 19 students per school. 1
bulletCincinnati, OH which was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in mid-2002.
bulletFlorida

As of 1999-APR, privately-funded voucher programs were available in at least 39 American cities. The largest, funded by John Walton and Ted Forstmann, was scheduled to award scholarships of up to $1,600 to 40,000 low-income students across the U.S.

However, even though the Cleveland model is compatible with the U.S. federal constitution, similar voucher systems are still prohibited in many states because they conflict with those states' constitutions. Analyst Dick Carpenter of the fundamentalist Christian group, Focus on the Family, said that individual states present different challenges. He said:

"As we look at those state constitutions versus the recent federal ruling, it's going to be incumbent upon the legislatures in many of those states, or people of those states, to amend their constitution as such."  2

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Experience with pilot studies:

Pilot studies were conducted in Milwaukee, WI and Cleveland, OH during the late 1990s. As noted above, voucher parents are more pleased with the academic quality of their children's schools than are parents of children in public schools. Indiana University researchers found that the average class size in private schools was smaller but that the teachers in public schools had better credentials and greater experience. The researchers concluded that the two effects cancelled each other out. Voucher-assisted students did better in fourth-grade academic achievement tests in language and science, but the differences were "relatively small." In other tests, reading, math, social studies and "total battery," there was no difference between public and voucher students.

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Florida:

The Florida voucher plan closely matches the national plan that was promoted by President George W. Bush.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a statewide voucher bill, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, into law on 1999-JUN-21. It gave vouchers of up to $3,389 a year, but only to children who attended schools which the state evaluated as failures. A school rating of "F" for two out of four years on the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test would entitle the parents of that schools' students to receive vouchers. When the program began in 1999-AUG, students in only two schools were eligible; both are in Pensacola. 3

It is surprising that Florida's legislature would pass a voucher law that could be used to fund education in a religiously-based private school. The state Constitution clearly states, "[N]o revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." While the Florida law would not divert funds from the government directly to religious schools, it would do so indirectly, through parents.

A coalition of groups, including the Florida PTA, League of Women Voters, teacher's unions and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People successfully challenged the funding scheme in court. The law was declared unconstitutional by Leon County Circuit Court Judge L. Ralph Smith, Jr. on 2000-MAR-14. He based his decision largely on Article IX Section 1 of the Florida constitution which requires the school to provide free education through public schools. It declares: 

"The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida...It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders...Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require..."

According to the People For the American Way Foundation:

"The court overturned the program because of a requirement in the Florida constitution that obligates the state to provide all students with a 'high quality education' through a 'uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.'  'Florida officials can't get around their constitutional duty to Florida's schoolchildren by passing the buck to private and religious schools,' said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way Foundation, which is a co-counsel in the case. 'It's time for Florida to put its money where the kids are - in the public schools'." 4

Leon Russell, spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Florida commented:

"The judge has made it very clear. He's saying you can't take public dollars and give it [sic] to private institutions because the people of the sate of Florida have said [that] education is the prime responsibility and priority of the state." 5

Bob Chase, President of the National Education Association said:

"This ruling puts a stake in the heart of the voucher movement...It sends a strong signal to states across the nation that vouchers are no substitute for a quality public education." [Author's note: This statement might be a bit optimistic. The judge's decision was based on some very strong language in the Florida constitution, that may well not be matched in many other states.] 6

Governor J. Bush promises to keep the program running, by raising private funding. He characterized Judge Smith's decision as "the first inning of a long, drawn-out legal battle." Governor Bush intends to appeal the court ruling aggressively. Judge Smith ordered that the 53 children who took advantage of vouchers will be allowed to finish their school year before returning to the public school for their 2000-2001 academic year.

In 2002-AUG, a state judge ruled that Florida's Opportunity Scholarships was unconstitutional under the state's constitution. The ruling was based on the prohibition of government funding going directly or indirectly to religious organizations.

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Sponsored link:

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Public opinion polls:

Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Organization have conducted seven polls on school vouchers between 1993 and 2000. Unfortunately, the main question is poorly worded, because it lumps together current voucher proposals which only cover a portion of private school tuition with the concept of the state paying 100% of tuition. In addition, it does not differentiate between religious and secular private schools.

"Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense."

Year % favor % oppose % undecided
1993 24 74 2
1995 33 65 2
1996 36 61 3
1997 44 52 4
1998 44 50 6
1999 41 55 4
2000 39 56 5

Additional data:

bullet76% felt that if private or religious schools accept funds from the government, that they should be accountable to the state in the same way as the public schools are.
bullet75% preferred "improving and strengthening the existing public schools" rather than "providing vouchers for parents to use in selecting and paying for private and/or church related schools."
bullet41% of the respondents felt that the Democratic party was more interested in improving public education than the Republican party; 29% felt the reverse.

When the year 2000 results were announced on 2000-AUG-21, Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee said that the survey "indicates that the American public is seeing through the misguided arguments of the pro-voucher forces." 7

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Milwaukee, WI Voucher Program," People for the American Way, undated, at: http://www.pfaw.org/
  2. Stuart Shepard, "Judge Nullifies Fla. Voucher Program," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/
  3. "State judge rules Florida's school voucher law unconstitutional," CNN.com, 200-MAR-14, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  4. "Private school vouchers found unconstitutional in Florida," People For the American Way Foundation news release, 2000-MAR-14. Their web site has a section on press releases at: http://www.pfaw.org
  5. "Florida school voucher plan quashed: Judge says governor's program violates state constitution," Reuters, 2000-MAR-14.
  6. AANEWS #726, American Atheists, 2000-MAR-15
  7. Anne Gearan "High Court Considers School Vouchers," Associated Press, at: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/

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Copyright 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-15
Latest update: 2006-DEC-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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