Could School Vouchers and Educational Choice Become National Norm?

May 13, 2009 08:00 AM
by Kate Davey
A Georgia state senator wants to offer school vouchers to all students; in doing so, he has entered the larger national debate on choice in education.

School Vouchers for All

Georgia state Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, has introduced a bill that would allow all students in Georgia to use public funds to choose their school, private or parochial. The Morris News Service reports that approximately 1,600 students living with disabilities in Georgia already use public funds to pay for private education.

Johnson’s bill is just the latest contribution to the national education debate about choosing among and funding charter, private and public schools.

According to The Wall Street Journal, enrollment in charter schools has more than doubled in the past six years, indicating that more Americans are seeking choice when it comes to their child’s education.

President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are urging states to increase the number of alternative schools; but during this recession, many states are not eager to have public schools compete with charter schools for public funds. Opponents to school vouchers argue that only rich parents benefit from vouchers, as most private schools cost much more than public school voucher funding allows per student.

Meanwhile, a provision has been included in the $410 billion spending bill by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin that would end a voucher school program based in Washington, D.C.  Fox News reports that this move has especially angered parents not only because the program is popular, but also because about 40 percent of Congress members (including Durbin) send their children to private schools.

Reference: School vouchers and charter schools

The Web site for the PBS special “Closing the Achievement Gap” offers an FAQ that explains the difference between attending a charter school and using a private school voucher. With vouchers, parents are able to use tax dollars that would have gone to educate their child in a public school and use the money to educate their child at a private or religious school instead. Charter schools are public schools that accept students through lotteries or “a first come-first-served basis” and do not charge tuition. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site, charter schools are granted more freedom in curriculum planning than other public schools and are exempt from some government regulatory requirements in exchange for increased student academic performance.

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