Vouchers, Public Schools, and Our Children's Future
Vouchers are the most important educational controversy since the U.S. Supreme Court declared "separate but equal" schools unconstitutional in 1954 and ended Jim Crow schooling.
Supporters of school vouchers have launched an assault on the very concept of public education. Seizing on undeniable problems in our public schools, particularly in urban areas, conservatives are using vouchers and the seductive rhetoric of "choice" to further their goal of privatizing our schools and removing them from public oversight and responsibility.
Voucher supporters received a major boost in 1998 when the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a Milwaukee program that provides tax dollars for vouchers at private schools, including religious schools. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, leaving vouchers intact in Milwaukee and leaving the future of vouchers nationwide unclear.
In opposing vouchers, advocates of public school reform find themselves in a complicated position. On the one hand, we must continue to criticize public schools and demand that they provide a quality education to all children. Too often, public schools are willing partners in furthering the divisions in this country between the "haves" and "have-nots."
On the other hand, we must defend the institution of public education. At a time when our communities —urban, rural, and suburban — need to re-commit themselves to equity and high standards for all children, vouchers promote a mentality of escape, individualized advancement, and abandonment of responsibility for the collective good.
Rethinking Schools hopes this collection of articles will help educators understand the true nature of vouchers, and will inspire them to look at better ways to improve our schools.
Also be sure to check out our 88-page special publication Selling Out Our Schools for a more in-depth discussion of vouchers.
In this Special Section: