Ben was sitting on the bus for an hour and a half going home from the only school that accepted his school voucher. His mom was not there to pick him up because she had to take on three extra hours of work to pay for the difference in Ben’s tuition. As the only Jewish person in his class at his new Catholic school, Ben is having trouble making friends and is often ostracized by his classmates. Due to limited enrollment, his best friends at his old school could not go to school with him and are stuck in a public school that can no longer afford new books because its district assigned those funds to Ben’s voucher.

While this is a very extreme case, it expresses most of the problems with school vouchers. Simply put, vouchers are a quick fix for public education and they simply will not deliver. Since we have avoided more attractive options because of high transaction costs, we are now left with a plan that will force many to conform in ways that could be unconstitutional.

Given that vouchers sometimes indirectly go toward a religious education, vouchers should be considered a violation of the Establishment Clause in our Constitution. While American citizens can practice religion, the government cannot support a religion, and in the school voucher case, the government is funding and thus supporting various religious schools.

Voucher supporters often say that “choice is good” and that students can take vouchers to any school, public or private. This would be a great concept if it were true. According to Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, school vouchers offer “the illusion of school reform without the substance of school reform.” The illusion comes into play when many people think that the term “school voucher” is synonymous with “school choice.”

It is not a choice when, first of all, each school – public and private – must agree to the program. Second, students do not always live near a secular private school and could be forced into a religious school against their will if their public school closes. In Cleveland, for example, 46 of the 56 participating private schools in that city’s voucher program are religiously affiliated. Third, private schools have a limited enrollment and cannot support the public school population, especially in urban areas where vouchers are most needed. And finally, many voucher programs will not cover the total tuition of some private schools. Although some private schools only cost $3,000, those that consistently outperform public schools are significantly more expensive and would be impossible to afford even after a voucher deduction.

Successful public schools get most of their money from their district’s taxes. The root of the problem with voucher programs is that they will take money away from the failing public schools and put it into private schools. This shift could in fact cause the demise of public education due to a mass migration to private schools and an inadequate amount of funding to public schools.

Many people believe that private schools outperform public schools by far. This is simply not the case. Most private school teachers are uncertified and teach their desired curriculum. A statewide curriculum taught by certified teachers, however, is what in fact helps bolster a child’s education. And because there has not been any evidence whether students currently involved in the voucher program perform better at their new private schools, it is pointless to set out on such a bizarre idea.

Instead of aborting on public education why are we not trying to fix the internal problems? Since administrators often receive the majority of education funding, kids are left with old textbooks and small classrooms with large class sizes. In urban public schools, the heart of the problem, kids often come home to empty nests and are enticed to join the wrong groups. After-school programs and increased parental involvement are two topics that need to be explored. We cannot give up on our public schools, because without it, many students won’t have a school choice at all.

Scott Zumwalt is a freshman in the College. He is the Georgetown University College Democrats’ Dorm Captain for New South.

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