Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Power to the Poor People? (Vouchers)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Power to the Poor People? (Vouchers)

Article excerpt

It may be a cliche to point out that what happens in the US happens here about five years later, but, like most cliches, it's true. Education vouchers, for instance, which give parents a sum equivalent to the money spent on sending their child to a state-run school, are usually dismissed in Britain. They have had a very different history in the US and, thanks to a decision a fortnight ago by the Supreme Court, are now poised to transform American schools. Give it a few years and the same may well happen here - not least because, although few have noticed, the government has already introduced the voucher principle into the NHS.

Although the American left, including the teachers' unions and the bulk of the Democratic Party, oppose school vouchers as firmly as their British equivalents, by far the most vocal advocates are the poverty lobby - and especially the black poverty lobby. The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, an African-American think-tank, found in a poll in December 2000 that 75 per cent of blacks under 35 support vouchers.

For many years, Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential election, fought a lonely battle, among his fellow Democrats, in support of vouchers. Now he is beginning to find allies. Last year, Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's former labor secretary, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "The only way to begin to decouple poor kids from lousy schools is to give poor kids additional resources, along with vouchers enabling them and their parents to choose how to use them."

The US Supreme Court's decision on 27 June overturned an Ohio Supreme Court ruling. …

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