In his perceptive column, Noah Peterson makes an excellent point about how private school-choice programs could be even more of a force for uplifting all of education were they were allowed to exert full competitive pressure. (“Is It Time for School Choice?” Dec. 4). He pointed out something not many people may know: The bipartisan deal in 2004 to create federally funded vouchers for disadvantaged Washington, D.C., children required that the D.C. public schools receive $2 in extra aid for every $1 going to private-choice vouchers. This “opportunity scholarship” program has helped thousands of needy students; however, the benefit could have been more widespread if the prospect of losing not just students but money had spurred public schools to reform their ways.
As valuable as they have been for improving educational outcomes, state-designed voucher programs likewise have shied away from exerting full competitive pressure. Public schools commonly are allowed to keep their federal and local tax dollars, with only their aid from state coffers (and sometimes just a portion of that) going to vouchers. So the government schools get to keep a significant amount of tax money for students they no longer have to instruct.
Recent public-opinion polls show majority support for vouchers as well as tax-credit scholarships with backing of African-Americans and Latinos particularly robust. Perhaps support would be even stronger if the public knew vouchers would bring beneficial competition without giving government schools more money with which to do less.
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute
Arlington Heights, Illinois