Although politicians simultaneously try to figure out how to improve education while they do their best to keep students from escaping failing public schools through vouchers, those pupils that do make the break are getting the instruction educators don’t always give their peers who are left behind.
Vouchers allow parents to take part of the per-pupil amount that state and local governments normally spend on public schools and apply the cash “voucher” towards tuition in a private school. “Objective studies of voucher programs in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Florida, New York, Dayton and Charlotte have shown statistically significant gains in test scores by students who receive vouchers,” the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation reports.
Ironically, the Foundation shows in its report, The ABCs of School Choice, that schools accepting students with vouchers achieve these results while also arriving at the racial balance that public schools strive for but rarely attain. “Adding religious schools has led to substantially more integration in choice schools than in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS),” Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning found.
“Half of MPS students attended racially isolated schools in 1999-2000, compared to 30.1% of students at religious choice schools. The result has been more integration, achieved voluntarily.”
And the Foundation reports that, “A study by Jay Greene in 1999 found that almost 20% of voucher recipients attend private schools that resemble the racial composition of the Cleveland metropolitan area, while only 5.2% of children in public schools are in similarly integrated schools.” Based at the Manhattan Institute, Jay Greene is a pioneer researcher of the effects of school choice.
Interestingly, the religious training that so concerns opponents of vouchers rarely bothers parents who use them. Milwaukee has an opt-out provision for parents who want their children to receive the education that religious private schools can provide without the spiritual guidance: Thus far, no parents have chosen to avoid the theological instruction, according to Robert Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation.
At the same time, schools have opted out of the voucher program for fear that their religious identities will be compromised, Enlow points out. “There has been a decrease in the number of religious schools in the voucher program since 1995,” Enlow says. And at least one Catholic school closed down and reopened as a secular school before entering the voucher program.
The problem of Catholic groups diluting their religious identity in order to receive government funding is one that has long plagued the Church. Catholic Charities, for example, receives the bulk of its funding from government sources while, in many areas, remaining a church group virtually in name only.