Federal resources should be focused on public schools that educate nine out of 10 students in this country. Voucher programs rob public school students of precious resources. In Cleveland, Ohio, the voucher program has cost taxpayers almost $43 million, almost all of which was diverted from programs for disadvantaged public school students. In addition, from 1998-2000, Wisconsin taxpayers paid $61 million to fund the Milwaukee voucher program while Milwaukee’s public schools were forced to cut spending by roughly $45 million. Public schools are on the right track. SAT math scores are at a 30-year high. More minority students are taking Advanced Placement courses. We can build on this progress by adopting reforms that work and supporting the new reforms passed under the No Child Left Behind Act. But private school vouchers would mean less money for public schools to hire additional teachers, decrease class sizes, strengthen accountability, and fully fund programs for disadvantaged students. By draining money from public schools, voucher programs will hinder any progress U.S. public education systems have made.
Private schools do not have the same standards as public schools. A 2000 audit of Milwaukee voucher schools found that a number had no accreditation and, in fact, were not seeking accreditation. An audit of Cleveland voucher schools found nearly $2 million in questionable expenses for the first year alone. Of this figure, $1.4 million was spent on transportation, primarily for taxis to transport voucher students at a cost of $15-$18 per student per day. This compares to the average school bus costs of $3.33 per day. The January 1999 audit found that $419,000 in over-billing by taxi companies since 1997 was largely due to billing for absent students.
Voucher proposals often do not protect children from discrimination based on sex, religion, limited English proficiency, disability, and other factors. In 2000, Wisconsin state education officials found "probable cause" that some Milwaukee voucher schools were using admission fees, religion and other criteria to violate the state law requiring schools to admit voucher students on the basis of random selection.
Voucher proponents claim that the system gives parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their children. However, many students with vouchers would still be ineligible or unable to attend private schools because of long waiting lists and restrictive admission standards. In addition, most voucher plans do not begin to fully cover the cost of tuition or other private school expenses.
All eight statewide referenda on vouchers have been rejected by voters. In November 2000, voters in Michigan and California soundly rejected vouchers. In both of these states, more than two-thirds of African Americans opposed vouchers. In California, three out of four Latino voters opposed vouchers.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, upholding the federal constitutionality of Cleveland’s voucher program, is not the last word on church-state issues. Thirty-eight states have provisions in their constitutions that prohibit public funds from being used to aid sectarian institutions. In November 2004, Florida ’s 1999 voucher law was struck down for the third time, as a violation of the state constitutional prohibitions against public funds being used “directly or indirectly” to aid sectarian institutions. A number of other state constitutions contain similar language.
In 2001, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed state evaluations and found little or no difference between the academic achievement of voucher students and public school students in Cleveland and Milwaukee - the two major urban school systems with publicly funded voucher programs. In addition, a 2002 GAO report found that “In the Washington, D.C., study, the academic achievement of African American students who used a voucher to switch from public to private school was not consistently higher over the 3 years of the study than that of the control group of African American students who remained in public schools.” Moreover, opportunity for public oversight of voucher programs’ academic achievement is limited. The Florida and Milwaukee voucher programs do not require their private schools to administer standardized tests and report scores. And, while Cleveland programs are required to administer 9th grade tests, they are not required to make test scores public.