Private Vouchers: Politics and Evidence
Terry M. Moe
The voucher movement is the most controversial force for change in American education today. What it proposes—that government provide grants to parents who wish to send their children to private schools—may seem simple enough, a matter of expanding opportunities for American families and imposing a healthy competition on public schools. But vouchers have ignited explosive political battles, as powerful defenders of the public system have put up fierce resistance at every turn. Vouchers have also provoked heated intellectual debate, as supporters and opponents have offered conflicting claims about how these reforms would work out in practice.
While all this has been going on, a little-noticed development has been taking place outside the public sector. Individual, corporate, and philanthropic contributors in major American cities have begun setting up their own programs to offer “private vouchers” to the parents of disadvantaged children. As of the 1998–1999 school year, 41 of these programs were up and running, involving over 13,000 children 1—with a massive expansion due to take place 1 year later, due to the newly formed Children's Scholarship Fund, which held a lottery in April 1999 extending vouchers to another 40,000 children around the nation (Hartocollis, 1999). What began only a few years ago as a charitable experiment in educational choice has grown into a full-fledged movement.