School Vouchers Don’t Help Students Who Receive Them Either

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned that President Donald Trump named Betsy DeVos his Education Secretary, not the least of which is her long-time commitment to pushing school voucher programs. While we know vouchers are harmful to public schools since they reallocate taxpayer money to private institutions, you might assume that at least the students who use vouchers are benefiting from the program.

Actually, you’d be assuming incorrectly.

As the New York Times writes, the research pertaining to school voucher programs paints quite the opposite picture. According to the data, students who “take advantage” of switching to private schools are actually receiving a lesser education than what the local public schools have to offer.

In the past year and a half, major studies in three states found voucher programs to be not all they’re cracked up to be:

1. Louisiana

An in-depth study of predominately low-income students who used vouchers to transfer out of underperforming public schools into private schools found that the switch was far from an improvement.

Astonishingly, on standardized test, elementary students dipped from the 50th percentile in math down to the 26th percentile a year after the switch. Though those numbers did improve after students spent more years at the school, they still were performing under the rate they were when at public schools.

On top of that, the Atlantic notes that vouchers did nothing to help integrate a de facto segregated school system. The students who left public schools were more likely to depart from schools where they were in the racial minority and join private schools where they were in the racial majority.

2. Indiana

A study on voucher students in Indiana found that kids who transferred from public schools started performing significantly worse at math and showed no improvement on reading.

Although that study focused on achievement, we also know from Mother Jones that the real beneficiaries of vouchers were religious-based schools that were suddenly raking in money. Overall, it was not the disadvantaged students attending the worst public schools that chose to use the vouchers.

3. Ohio

This particular study was actually funded by a conservative pro-voucher institution and the results still did not deliver good news for school choice. Quoting the study’s own conclusion: “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

The NYT points out that the results are alarming because of the seemingly detrimental effects. Typically, attempts at educational reform are deemed a failure when they do not improve student achievement – but seldom do these “failures” actually involve students performing worse than they had previously. That trend should set off some major red flags.

Certainly there are private schools that perform better than public schools, but a lot of those good schools don’t accept vouchers. It’s the underperforming private schools that need enrollment that accept vouchers, and unfortunately, these institutions aren’t held to the same educational standards that the government requires in the public schools.

The religious factor is also an important consideration. No doubt, there are parents who are happy to put their children in schools that emphasize the Bible over arithmetic, but should taxpayers really have to fund tuition for students to go to a religious school that does much worse at teaching the fundamentals?

Very few people would dispute that the American educational system needs an overhaul, but from what we’ve seen from existing voucher programs in various states across the country, “school choice” is not the solution.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Sarah H
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Interesting, though I think the writer "cherry-picked" the studies sited.

Peggy B
Peggy B2 years ago

Hmmm, maybe the GOP really is dummying down more people to insure votes in the future. ;)

Deborah J
Deborah J2 years ago

If anyone rejects these findings as "cherrypicking" bad examples - can we agree: NO child deserves a substandard school. I'm horrified that public education will lose funding in order to favor charter schools with zero record and what oversight? Like the Affordable Care Act, let's only replace a flawed existing system with one that really is better, without harming the child or patient in the interim.

ERIKA SOMLAI2 years ago


John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks Kevin for the very excellent article and point's made. Vouchers are not the answer and never will be.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Steve F. wrote, " ... If it can be shown that a local private school is subpar, parents will reject that school for their children. ... " I have read that some jurisdictions, for example DeVos dominated Michigan, do not monitor their private schools. So how does a parent learn that a private school is subpar?

Lori Hone
Lori Hone2 years ago

repulsive republicians will completely destroy out country, children and democracy.

Mary B
Mary B2 years ago

Another idea that sounded good initially, choice, smaller classes, relieving over burdened public school teachers, hi-jacked by private people with religious agendas.
I remember hearing about 'Charter Schools' several years ago. But not religious schools subsidized by public money.

Julie D
Julie D2 years ago

For several reasons the voucher system sucks. First of all many people who want to partake of it will not get enough money from the vouchers to pay for it and will have to pay more out of their pockets to afford it, many will not be able to afford it. Secondly there must be a separation of church and state. Religion should not be taught in any public school system. If you want your child to get a religious education then give it to them at home or the church of your choice or pay for them to attend private religious schools. Public schools must remain insuring every child a decent education regardless of financial status or religious affiliation, and should be for learning reading, writing, arithmetic, factual science free of any religious bias or indoctrination. Thirdly it is just another way of the government allowing private parties to make a profit off of a service that is vital to us by "privatizing" it. Which they would love to do to SS, Medicare, the Postal Service and pretty much any public service that we depend upon. We must not allow them to "privatize" any of our vital services just to line the pockets of their cronies.