The Education Voucher System Review


An education voucher is also known as a school voucher. It is a certificate which enables parents to pay for their children’s education at a school of their own choice rather than the public school made mandatory for their children to attend. This concept is not a new one, it was proposed as early as the 1950s by famous economist Milton Friedman who intended this to be way of promoting competition among schools and consequently lead to enhancement of education quality. Since then, countries all over the world have introduced vouchers in their education reforms but this has been the most controversial area in education as it has split views owing to differing ideologies and the stance of unions in education (School Voucher). However, before it can be decided whether it ultimately creates a better educational environment, an understanding of the workings of the program, and its impact on the education system is necessary.

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How does the voucher program work?

To gain an understanding of how the voucher system works, it would be helpful to consider the examples of states which have implemented the plan successfully. One such state is Ohio: in Cleveland, vouchers are funded through public finances and are then given to students hailing from low-income backgrounds within the Cleveland City school district. Lotteries are used to allocate vouchers to students and the system is very much in place in public as well as private schools. The financial coverage provided by the voucher varies according to the income classes the families fall in and the amount of tuition charged by the school of choice: for families with an income 200% lower than the poverty line, the voucher is equivalent to 905 of the tuition; for families with a higher income, the voucher has a value of 75% of the tuition. However, the total amount of tuition which is charged can not exceed $2,500. This is equal to a little more than one-third of the per capital cost at public schools. In Cleveland, a voucher is in actuality a check which is payable to the parents of ‘scholarship’ students (Braun-Munzinger, 2005).

Research conducted by Braun-Munzinger (2005) showed that Charlotte (North Carolina), Dayton (Ohio), Milwaukee (Wisconsin), New York City and Washington D.C. use education vouchers to target students from low-income families similar to the example mentioned of Cleveland above. However, so far, in the latter three cases, only private schools have been included in this program. Still, there are other cities where a different approach is followed. In Florida, the voucher program was implemented with the aim of creating an incentive for schools which were not performing so well to enhance their quality standards. The way this works is that the students of such a school which has been given an ‘F’ twice based on student achievement tests taken in a period of 4 years are offered the choice of attending a different public or private school of their choice, via vouchers. These vouchers are financed by the public and have a value of $4,000. Hence, this way vouchers are used as a tool for motivating public and private schools to improve their quality (Braun-Munzinger, 2005).

In Vermont, the voucher program targets students in towns lacking a public school or with public schools of inadequate capacity. Therefore, vouchers, financed via public funding, are provided to students to pay for tuition at public or private schools. Vouchers vary with the type of school, i.e., they are different for elementary, middle and high school students (Braun-Munzinger, 2005).

Impact of the voucher program on the current education system

To make a decision regarding the pros and cons of the voucher program, it is also necessary to understand the impact of this program on the current education system in the U.S. Basically, the program has manifold objectives. One is to increase parental choice and since the government provides educational funding via vouchers, parents have more of a say in ‘shopping’ for schools. The program also aims to promote school competition. There is a common perception that public schools are inefficient and bureaucratic. Hence, education vouchers challenge schools to compete with each other to retain students and project an image of being a high quality education provider. Competition will also lead to decrease costs, higher quality and dynamic innovations in education. Education vouchers also play a role in ensuring greater access to public and private schools for students from low-income families (Braun-Munzinger, 2005).

The impact of this program has been different for different areas. In Charlotte, a year after implementation, students’ achievements increased by 0.25 standard deviations and parents were more satisfied with the schools of their children under the voucher program. Similarly in Cleveland, both voucher students and their parents expressed more satisfaction with their schools as compared to public school students. There was considerable positive academic impact in language and science, two years after implementation. In Florida, where the voucher program sought to improve the performance of failing schools, “low-performing schools improved directly proportional to the probability of being eligible for vouchers, which means that those schools whose students were already receiving vouchers progressed the most.” In Milwaukee, no significant differences in the academic achievement of voucher and public school students were reported. The only slight differences were in higher attendance and higher parental satisfaction and involvement in the case of the voucher program (Braun-Munzinger, 2005). Chakrabarti (2003) examined the impact of vouchers in general and voucher design specifically on the performance of public schools, and found there to be significant evidence of large improvement of the treated schools in Florida, but no consistent evidence of improvement of the Milwaukee treated schools. It must be remembered that both states followed differently designed voucher programs.

Competition in education

Another question which must be answered is that does competition in education lead to a better quality of education? According to Taylor (2000), the answer is affirmative, as he quotes researches which have shown that students who went to schools in communities where there were many educational providers consequently scored higher grades in tests, stayed in school for more years and earned higher wages when they entered the job market. Additionally, in states and communities where there are a higher number of public school districts and therefore more choice for students, average per pupil expenditures by the public school system are lower to a significant extent. Taylor (2000) quoted her own research in Texas where she found that school districts in the more competitive parts of the state were at least twice as efficient that those in other Texas districts. Hence, in a competitive environment where educational providers compete with each other to attract and retain students, there is usually more efficient use of resources and consequently, a higher quality of education provided. In this regard, the voucher program is one of the most commonly used tools for increasing competition in the education sector (Taylor, 2000).

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This has been a very controversial topic in the field of education for a number of years now. However, our discussion has shown that it in fact does lead to increased competition, and if research shows that this in turn has a positive impact on the education system of the country, then there seems to be no harm in implementing the voucher program in the communities and states where it is required. If the ultimate goal is a better educational environment, then the voucher program is definitely one of the tools to aid in achieving this goal.


  1. Braun-Munzinger, C. (2005). Educational Vouchers: An International Comparison. Center for Civil Society.
  2. School Voucher. (2007). Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. Web.
  3. Taylor, L. (October 2000). Competition in Education. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
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