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Small Government Approach to Education: School Choice and Vouchers

by Michael Higham, published

school choice and vouchers small govt Credit: Dirk Ercken /

School choice is the concept that families can enroll their children in any school whether it be public, private, charter, or home. A more controversial aspect to school choice is the debate of a voucher system which is essentially a tax-credit for families to enroll in schools that charge tuition.

Both concepts are associated with limited government in the sense that district boundaries would not determine which school children attend and taxpayers would have more say in how tax dollars are spent. Share: Tweet

Since public schools are paid for by taxes, taxpayers would be reimbursed for choosing a non-public school. However, public schools are beneficial to an entire community. Its children are educated, thus improving the quality of life for that community. In this regard, all taxpayers should be paying into the public school system.

There are political ramifications for adopting a school choice system. Recent news in school choice and vouchers has surfaced in Alabama and Louisiana.

A local judge declared vouchers unconstitutional last December, but the decision has been taken to the higher court. The Louisiana Supreme Court held a hearing on March 21 about the constitutionality of school vouchers.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has helped expand the state-sponsored voucher system. The governor stated, "It is my sincere hope that what we are now putting in motion in Louisiana can be done across the country."

Baton Rouge has 5,000 students who would qualify for money under vouchers, but their situation is up in the air until Louisiana makes a decision.

Last week in Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley gave the green light on education reform measures. The state legislature is likely to make a few revisions to the Alabama Accountability Act, but it's expected to be a full implementation of school choice and vouchers.

Concerns have been raised regarding vouchers used to attend religious schools. Since vouchers are given by state governments, the separation of church and state becomes an issue.

The Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University looked into the effectiveness of school choice programs on student outcomes. CEPA admits that quantifying results is difficult and advises reading its study with a "critical eye."

The study concluded:

"For all of the theoretical promise of school choice, evaluations of choice policies and programs have produced mixed results. While there are isolated (and sometimes very impressive) success stories, school choice reforms have not proven to be unambiguously effective on the whole."

If one holds the position that competition will breed excellence in the academic realm, then the school choice model is appealing. Under-performing schools would experience lower attendance then have a strong incentive to improve the way it educates students.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) put forth federal school choice legislation following his official GOP response to the State of the Union earlier this year. His home state of Florida has both school choice and voucher systems for education.

The limited government aspect is that taxpayers would have more say about where their tax dollars go with a voucher system. Offering school choice lifts restrictions on where families can enroll their children.

The Heritage Foundation put together a video to help explain the concept of school choice and how it can be beneficial:

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