The School Voucher Debate Essay

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The School Voucher Debate

In the education community, few issues stir up as much debate as the notion of providing government-funded aid, in the form of vouchers, to parents so that they may send their children to private schools. The voucher movement has been gaining momentum since Wisconsin implemented the first voucher program in 1990, but only few states have adopted such programs. Although the courts have upheld the constitutionality of vouchers, there is still a lack of consensus amongst the public over the issue. The underlying disagreements that surround the issue of vouchers revolve around three main controversies: constitutionality, influence on student achievement, and impact on public schools.

The idea of school
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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Hanus & Cookson, 1996). The controversy lies in the interpretation. Do voucher programs violate the First Amendment by providing public money indirectly to religious schools?

The first voucher program was put into action in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1990. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program offered $2,900 in private-school tuition for children of low-income families and in 1995 religious schools were added to the program (Hadderman, 2002). In June 1998, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled that the use of public funds to support private parochial schools was not unconstitutional. The Court also ruled that students did not receive the money because they were associated with a particular religion, but because the students were from low-income families. The Court also took the position that voucher money went to parents, not the schools, and therefore the program’s purpose, with regards to religion, was neutral (Good & Braden, 2000).

A similar program was adopted in Ohio in 1996. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program targets low-income families, allows voucher recipients to attend religious schools, and provides tutoring assistance. In the academic school year of 1997-1998 vouchers were worth up to $2,250 and were available for 4,000 students in…