Vouchers are essentially government funded scholarships that enable some poor kids to attend private schools. They are different from charter schools, which are essentially public schools outsourced to private companies. (The two are often confused.)
Vouchers are one of those political talking points that sound great in theory: give poor kids a chance to go to private schools instead of failing public schools. In reality, this equates to spending precious funds to add a couple more lifeboats to the Titanic rather than spending that money to save the ship from sinking. McCain (as Bush before him) touted how the millions of dollars spent in DC gave a few thousand kids the opportunity to attend private schools. And what about the other kids in the failing schools? Perhaps this policy approach should be called "Tens of Thousands of Children Left Behind".
There are many other issues raised by the idea of sending public tax dollars to private schools:
- Private schools get to decide who they admit or not. They are not mandated to accept special education kids or English language learners. They can deny admission to any "difficult" kids. They can use criteria like athletic skills, if they like.
- Private schools do not have the same government regulations and oversight as public schools. No "No Child Left Behind" rules. No WASL. No standards for curriculum.
- Many private schools don't need the money. They may not have billion dollar endowments like Exeter, but many have scholarship funds already in place since they understand the value of diversity (including economic diversity) in their student population. In general, private schools are able to charge more per student than government per-student funding for public schools, and they can usually raise more money in their fund drives. (All this while they have the ability to use admission requirements to limit children who are the most expensive to educate.) You certainly don't hear of many private schools who are so short on funds that they are forced to consider 4 day schools weeks.
This is not intended to be a rant against private schools. Many private schools do great work for the children they serve. Many are very generous to their communities. Many serve specific needs, like faith-based curriculum. Not all are wealthy. Parents should maintain the right to educate their children where they want. But on the subject of vouchers I believe the answer is clear: Public dollars (more, not less) should be spent on public schools, fulfilling the promise in our country so central to the future health of our society: that all children deserve a quality education.