School Vouchers Further Polarize Congress
School vouchers are becoming a heated issue in today’s political sphere, due to the Obama Administration’s attempt to freeze Louisiana’s voucher program. House leadership sent a letter of protest to the President, because they feel that he is not justified in his lawsuit, which will “trap poor kids in failing public schools,” according to Politico’s Stephanie Simon. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said President Obama is “ripping low-income students out of good schools that could help them achieve their dreams.”
Governor Jindal feels strongly that parents should have a say in which school their children attend, and that school vouchers are the means to this end. “We make no apologies for giving parents the option to determine the best educational path for their children,” he said. “President Obama has the means to send his children to the school of his choice. Parents in Louisiana should have the same opportunity.” While House Democrats argue that we should focus more on improving our public education system, House Republicans feel that that is an insurmountable task.
Despite Congressional disagreement over this system, vouchers are currently seeing unprecedented levels of use. According to the Alliance for School Choice, a record 245,000 students in 16 states plus D.C. are paying for private school with public subsidies. This shows that the public will seize the opportunity to use vouchers when it is presented to them. Nine states have added or significantly broadened their voucher programs this year, and many others have similar initiatives in the works. Robert Enlow, president of a pro-school choice advocacy group called the Friedman Foundation, says that by 2014, states will be spending $1 billion a year on voucher programs and other such initiatives to send underprivileged students to private schools. This sizeable budget is likely the cause for much of the Congressional tension over the issue, especially as many states continue to slash their education budget.
Although we continue to see the expansion of voucher programs, many of them have not been successful. In cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New Orleans, voucher students produce markedly inferior test results than their public school peers. In Washington DC and New York City, voucher students have performed at the same level as their peers. Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution said about New York’s voucher students: “If their children are at least doing no worse … it seems reasonable that it’s OK to let people make these choices.” This view is shared by House Republicans, who generally advocate for smaller government and more individual freedom in policy-making scenarios. The Democrats feel that without a demonstration of significant improvement in voucher-students’ performance, the money is better spent improving our nation’s public schools.
This recent school voucher battle is yet another display of the inability of Congress to reach any sort of agreement on a policy issue. If the Justice Department’s lawsuit is not settled before the beginning of the next school year, this matter is likely to play a large roll in the 2014 midterm elections in states that have a voucher system in place.