OPINION: America's Second Largest Newspaper Gets Behind Vouchers

From USA Today:

Imagine if we only passed legislation that simultaneously slashed spending, boosted income equality, shrunk government, protected the environment, and ensured that pandas didn’t go extinct. That’d be a recipe for do-nothing lawmakers who failed to solve any of our pressing problems, just because they couldn’t find a quixotic policy that solved them all.

So why do we insist on such an idealistic standard for educational voucher programs?

Right now, a series of voucher initiatives are being proposed across the nation:

•Indiana and Pennsylvania state lawmakers are working to institute voucher programs.

•In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is pushing to quadruple the number of vouchers available.

•New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is battling to give corporations tax credits in exchange for their financial support for low-income students’ private school tuition.

•Congress just passed a budget deal that significantly increases the number of vouchers available to schoolchildren in Washington, D.C.

But if history is any indication, Washington will be the exception, and many or all of these other efforts will fail, despite the crucial difference they could make.

That’s because, while vouchers have commanded the policy equivalent of Lindsay Lohan-like level of attention over the past decades, they’ve been implemented about as frequently as Lohan churns out a successful movie. States as blue as California and as red as Utah have rejected vouchers. Only 12 states and Washington have vouchers or similar programs, and a mere 190,000 students (out of 54 million) participate in such programs.

The kill-the-vouchers crowd

Of course, vouchers have often faced the type of strident opposition usually reserved for proposals to, say, hike gas taxes. Teachers unions have actively campaigned against them. Parents, worried that the good public schools their children attend could lose funds, are wary. Others point to failure of vouchers to consistently raise test scores as a reason to maintain the education status quo.

That’s unfortunate, because vouchers are helping boost students’ high school graduation rates. For anyone who wants to see low-income students have a shot at climbing the economic ladder, that fact alone makes vouchers worth fighting for.

In Washington, D.C., a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that there was a 21 percentage point gap between the graduation rates of those in the voucher program (graduation rate: 91%) and those who had applied, but had failed to win the placement lottery (70%). A study released late last month by the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project showed a similar pattern in Milwaukee, with those using vouchers in the 9th grade graduating at a rate (77%) eight percentage points higher than their peers in public schools (69%).

Read more here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-04-18-school-vouchers-worth-a-shot.htm#