School Vouchers: Proving the Opponent's Point without Intending To

It was never a point of the pro-voucher crowd that students using education vouchers would end up being smarter than students in public schools (rather it was that students in both environments would become better learners).

It has been a strident point, however, of the anti-voucher crowd that there are no standards of measuring whether private schools provide at least the same quality of education as public schools. Utah Amicus, in an attempt to disprove a non-issue for the pro-voucher crowd, actually helped disprove a very fundamental theory of the anti-voucher crowd.

Utah Amicus has implied here that studies have shown that students who are educated through the use of vouchers are no smarter than children educated in the public schools. So? It's interesting that relative intelligence is hardly ever an issue to those who support vouchers, unless it is to cite evidence that the education of both vouchered and non-vouchered students improves when vouchers are implemented. Rather, choice is the issue.

A great outcry of those who are opposed to vouchers is that there are no standards or measurements which can be applied to the efficacy of the private schools who accept vouchers, and thus we can't be sure whether privately educated students are being educated on par with their publicly educated peers.

Utah Amicus refers to an analysis of the results of vouchered versus non-vouchered education in places like Milwaukee. Unfortunately for the intended point to be made, the analysis says in part

After three years, averaging across all students, there were no differences between voucher and non-voucher students on national tests (Howell & Peterson, 2002). When students were categorized into ethnic/racial groups, however, an advantage was found for African-American students in math. No other ethnic group, including Hispanics and non-Hispanic Caucasians, was helped by the vouchers. Subsequent analyses suggest that even the specific gains shown in math by African-Americans may be very small (Kreuger & Peu, 2003).

Evaluators of a new voucher program in Washington, D.C., report no difference between voucher users and nonusers in the first year (Wolf, et al., 2007).

So, in an effort to disprove something that has not been a central issue of its opponent's views, Utah Amicus has actually done damage to its own advocacy by admitting that measurements exist to indicate that students educated through the assistance of vouchers actually do as well as their publicly educated counterparts.

Incidentally, the reason for the lack of educational difference is an interesting one. Parents for Choice in Education has this to say on its web site:

2. Does school choice help students do better in school? What about public school students who don't use a voucher?

A large number of high-quality studies show that vouchers improve academic achievement for students who use the voucher AND for those that choose to stay in public schools. This is because there is a change in the system, and the public schools become accountable to all parents, including low-income parents, who now have a choice in which school to enroll their child. Studies also show high parental satisfaction with voucher programs, as well as increased graduation rates. No empirical study has ever found that vouchers hurt a student's academic achievement or public-school outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

The analysis that Utah Amicus cites indicates some evidence that tends to agree with PCE's statement.

In 1999, Florida instituted a school accountability system, in which low-scoring schools (F grade) were put under sanctions and their students were offered vouchers for other schools. Test scores in F schools improved.

That is, students who stayed in F schools and did not use vouchers did better (Greene & Winters, 2003).

In neither place, however, was there direct evidence that remaining students had lower achievement scores.

It sounds to me like vouchers are a good thing. It appears that Utah Amicus agrees.


  1. As an LDS member, it's not if students will learn better in one enviornment or another, it's a matter of my tax dollars going to one private religious school or another. I do not believe it was in the intentions of the framers of the constitution for public tax dollars go to the support of any religious dogma. Since education wasn't a part of the federal constitution, it was left to the states and in the Utah State Constitution there are a couple of articles talking about how state tax dollars are not to go to private religious schools. So it doesn't really matter how well they learn in or out of public or private schools, it has to do with the use of tax dollars to support one religion over another and I feel that's unconstituional at both the federal and state level therefore vouchers are wrong and should be voted down.

  2. Frank, you are taking much of Mr. Jacobson's article out of context. Please be more honest in your analysis.

  3. Thomas,

    If I could convince you otherwise on this one issue, would you be able to support vouchers?


    It would be helpful if you would explain to me where I took it out of context, because I was not aware that I was. The analysis is linked to in my article, and I reflected that analysis in that, for example, some evidence (not all) indicated that public schools and vouchered students improved together.

  4. Just an FYI, I laid out my ten reasons I oppose vouchers over on one of my blogs.

    Best regards.

  5. Obi wan,

    I checked out your ideas on vouchers on your site. They are well thought out, although in my somewhat lengthly comments to your article, I disagreed with some and (hopefully) cast others in a new light.

  6. Raymond Takashi Swenson9/05/2007 12:43:00 PM

    The Utah State Constitution states at Article X, Section 9:
    "Neither the state of Utah nor its political subdivisions may make any appropriation for the direct support of any school or educational institution controlled by any religious organization."

    Please note the words "direct support". In 2002 the United States Supreme Court, which has many decisions ruling that many kinds of "direct support" by state governments of parochial schools were prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, ruled that school vouchers which are given to parents, and which parents may use at any private school, whether or not it has a religious affiliation, did not in any way implicate the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court noted that vouchers given to parents no more constituted "direct support" of parochial schools than if the parents were state employees and used part of their salary to pay tuition at a parochial school, which only the most extreme anti-religious person would claim violates the First Amendment.

    Indeed, there are many ;public school teachers in Utah whose children attend church-affiliated elementary and secondary schools. Additionally, there are vast numbers of state employees who pay tuition for their children to attend BYU! They are free to do so, and it does not harm anyone's religious freedom, because those funds belong to the parents as salary.

    It cannot be argued that Utah's founders hated religious affiliated schools, or thought they were somehow evil. The main schools in Utah Territory had been affiliated with one church or another. As Utah moved to statehood, the LDS Church gave many of its primary and secondary schools to the state, including what became the University of Utah, but retained the nucleus of LDS Business College and BYU.

    Vouchers are an educational benefit like veterans' education benefits, which can be used at BYU, Westminster College, or other church-affiliated schools. The choice of the student to use his benefit to get an education at a church-affiliated school enhances freedom of religion, it does not circumscribe it. The same is true of vouchers given to parents, which reflect the State's obligation to support the education of all children in Utah.

    Again, this is no more "use of tax dollars to support a religion" than is paying salaries to state employees who use part of their income to pay tuition at a church-affiliated school like BYU.

    Vouchers given to parents, who can choose whether or not to use them at a secular or parochial school, do not constitute "direct support" of parochial schools.

  7. Raymond,

    Thank you! I've been wondering how I would find what the supreme court said about the issue. I knew they had said something like that, but hadn't found it yet. This information is of immense help and importance, and hopefully it helps Thomas see his way to support vouchers.


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