Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education

Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education

Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education

Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education

Synopsis

Inserting much-needed historical context into the voucher debates, "Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education" treats school vouchers as a series of social movements set within the context of evolving American conservatism. The study ranges from the use of tuition grants in the 1950s and early 1960s in the interest of fostering segregation to the wider acceptance of vouchers in the 1990s as a means of counteracting real and perceived shortcomings of urban public schools.

The rise of school vouchers, author Jim Carl suggests, is best explained as a mechanism championed by four distinct groups--white supremacists in the South, supporters of parochial school in the North, minority advocates of community schools in the nation's big cities, and political conservatives of both major parties. Though freedom was the rallying cry, this book shows that voucher supporters had more specific goals: continued racial segregation of public education, tax support for parochial schools, aid to urban community schools, and opening up the public school sector to educational entrepreneurs.

Excerpt

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of publicly funded vouchers to religious schools in 2002, observers predicted their rapid expansion to other cities and states. While that has not happened at the rate observers envisaged, voucher advocates remain on the wings to remake American education into a system characterized by public funding and private delivery of services. School vouchers remain the most radical of a basket of reforms that have been labeled, since the 1980s, as “school choice.” Voucher proponents blazed the trail for other forms of school choice that have become commonplace—public school open enrollment, tuition tax credits, and, especially, charter schools. Yet, the origins of school vouchers have not been widely studied.

In the United States, school vouchers began as tuition grants in southern states—a strategy with roots in massive resistance to the civil rights movement. While southern tuition grants were the only functioning voucher programs in the 1950s and 1960s, vouchers also had appeal for parochial school supporters seeking a share of federal support, and, at a more abstract level, for neo-classical economists uncomfortable with the New Deal. In the early 1970s the federal government sought to interest cities and states in free-market voucher plans, while Catholic and other religious leaders continued to lobby for public funds, some of them warming to the idea of vouchers. By the 1980s and 1990s, proponents of school vouchers added a new purpose—a means of counteracting real and perceived shortcomings of urban public schools. To date, there has been very little historical study of school vouchers that ties together their origins in the 1950s as a means . . .

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