From the beginning, backers of a proposal to establish a private-school voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, went to great pains to proclaim their intentions. The voucher proposal, they declared, was a means to improve educational opportunity for poor students who weren’t doing well in public schools. In the mid-1990s, when the Ohio Legislature was still debating the voucher proposal, Governor George Voinovich insisted that vouchers would "offer Cleveland school district parents—and particularly low-income families—new opportunities…"1 In 1996, a reporter for the Washington Times summarized voucher advocates’ arguments: "Supporters of the voucher program," the newspaper observed, "counter that it gives low-income parents the right to make school choices they could not otherwise afford and gives their children a long-denied chance for a better education."2
Has the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program—the name that state officials use for the voucher program — fulfilled the lofty goals that were identified by its supporters?
This report, Five Years and Counting: A Closer Look at the Cleveland Voucher Program,explores the voucher program and its impact on Cleveland students since it was begun in the 1996-97 school year. Specifically, the report examines the key questions that parents, the public and policymakers are asking -- reviews how vouchers are paid for, the actual cost of vouchers to taxpayers and the state, and what choices are really available to students whose families opt for vouchers. Five Years and Counting also addresses the issues of equity and religious liberty, the level of accountability in voucher schools, and the most recent research on the impact of vouchers on student performance and achievement.