Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice

Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice

Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice

Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice


Set against the backdrop of a monopoly public school system that consigns millions of disadvantaged children to educational inequality, the recent Cleveland school vouchers case, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, has brought this issue to national attention.


It is almost surrealistic that my colleagues and I have had to spend the past dozen years litigating to establish the basic legal premise that parents may exercise school choice. In a nation supposedly committed to free enterprise, consumer choice, and equal educational opportunities, school choice should be routine. That it is not demonstrates the clout and determination of those dedicated to preserving the government's monopoly over public education.

To listen to the education establishment, one would think that school choice is a scary, radical, alien concept. And indeed, the defenders of the status quo have managed to convince voters in initiative after initiative that school choice is a threat to public education.

And yet, school choice is not new. To the contrary, private schools, often using public funds, have played a key role in American education. Even today, America's post-secondary system of education— the world's envy—is characterized by widespread school choice. Students can use the G.I. Bill, Pell Grants, and other forms of government aid to attend either public or private schools, including religious institutions. Parents can use childcare vouchers in private and religious settings. Indeed, under federal law, tens of thousands of disabled children receive schooling in private schools at public expense. It is only mainstream K–12 schools in which the government commands a monopoly over public funds.

Thomas Paine, the most prescient of the founding fathers, is credited with first suggesting a voucher system in the United States. He was interested in promoting the goal of an educated, enlightened citizenry; and in his time the idea of the government operating schools was actually an alien concept. So instead he proposed providing financial support to people who could use those funds to purchase education in private schools.

Most early American “public” education took place in private schools; and even when states started creating government schools . . .

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