Private school choice is alive and well. Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, has been a vocal advocate for school choice in her home state of Michigan, and some anticipate she may promote a voucher program and tax credit at the federal level as well.
Twenty-seven states have passed legislation supporting at least one approach to private school choice, and it looks like those options will continue to be debated in statehouses around the country. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have specifically established traditional school voucher programs. State-funded vouchers are like scholarships that pay qualifying private schools for the students' education.
Legislatures establish the minimum standards the private schools must meet and decide which group of students will be eligible. States vary in their approaches, but often, vouchers are intended for students from low-income families or those attending failing schools, or who have disabilities.
State support going to private schools is not a new practice. Maine and Vermont for nearly 140 years have been providing public funding to private schools for rural students with no public school nearby. Modern efforts to start a voucher program have met more resistance, however.
Proponents argue that parents know what's best for their children and that they, not the government, should be making their kids' educational decisions. They believe vouchers create a healthy competition among schools that will lead to higher student achievement and lower educational costs. Opponents don't see it that way. They argue that a handful of students leaving with vouchers cuts funding to the school but does little to cut the fixed costs of running a school.
In addition, when private schools are religious, as they often are, some question whether the vouchers are violating the Constitution's call for the separation of church and state.
Research on whether vouchers have done what they were...