What are School Vouchers?

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If you haven’t heard, Betsy Devos nomination was approved yesterday to be the next secretary of education in the United States.

Devos is a school choice activist, using vouchers and expanding charter schools, and a billionaire republican donor. (Westervelt, 2017)

Vouchers were not something that I was too familiar with.  But wondered if it had anything to do with a letter I had received from our school district the previous week, which stated:

“Dear Area Parents and Residents,

The School Board wishes to make you aware of imminent proposed changes from Harrisburg that could have a profoundly negative effect.  Senate Bill 76 is being hurried to the Senate floor to abolish local control of funding sources by the elimination of school property taxes in Pennsylvania and replacing them with much higher income and sales taxes.”

The letter tells me that when school taxes are eliminated, there with be a minimum 50% higher income tax rate hike, higher sales tax, and items that are not currently taxed like food and clothing, will now be taxed.  The letter also provided information detailing how the school district will not be able to get the full revenue required to operate adequately from the state.  Information is then provided for me on how to contact my senators to tell them of my concerns about Senate Bill 76.

The letter had me concerned and got my wheels turning.

  • Wait – what does this mean?
  • Does this have anything to do with Devos’s vouchers?
  • What does this mean for students with disabilities?

So, I hit the research trail.

Dictionary.com defined school voucher for me:

school voucher


1.a government cash grant or tax credit for parents, equal to all or part of the cost of educating their child at an elementary or secondary school of their choice.

To look at the issue, it is important to look at the different aspects.

  • Public schools are funded by taxes .
  • Private schools are funded by tuition or donations and operate privately
  • Charter schools are funded publicly but operated privately
  • As long as the school has not reached it’s maximum capacity, Parents are allowed to choose which school their child will attend (instead of being assigned one) by the process of Open Enrollment.

People who support vouchers feel that vouchers (Penn Wharton, 2015):

  • Promote competition between public and private schools, which promotes the school’s education standards
  • Parents have the right to choose what school their kids attend
  • School vouchers allow for lower-income families the right to a better education

People who criticize the vouchers feel (Penn Wharton, 2015), (NEA, 2016), (Americans United, 2011):

  • Although school vouchers provide lower-income families THE RIGHT to a better education, the voucher still does not cover the entire cost of the education.  The family must pay the outstanding amount, and many cannot do that.
  • Vouchers violate the separation of church and state as most of the private schools available are religious in nature, and public funds are not supposed to be used for that purpose
  • Voucher programs that have been tested did not work.  Simply put, vouchers did not improve academic performance.  Kids were still both testing at the same level regardless of being educated in a public or private setting.
  • Vouchers harm the public school system, that is already underfunded.  Once the private schools reach their maximum capacity, students are left to attend public schools.  The schools will now have fewer students, and less public funds coming in to help the school.
  • Vouchers cost rather than save taxpayer money.  School taxes may disappear, but other taxes go up and the money provided does not actually cover the tuition costs of private schooling.

But what about kids with special needs, I continued to wonder?  

Right now, Declan has a pretty lengthy Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which states in order for him to receive an education he needs Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Specialized Instruction and a 1:1 Aid.

So I googled, “Do private schools have to follow an IEP”


Private schools do not receive this funding and are not required to provide a free appropriate education or an IEP. They are not required to provide special education services to children with disabilities.Feb 25, 2010


The IEP describes the special education services that the child will need for their education based on the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  IDEA states that children with disabilities have federally protected civil rights to a free and appropriate public education that meets their specific needs in the least restrictive environment possible.

By moving your child with disabilities education from a public to a private school, your child is no longer guaranteed a free and appropriate education that meets the childs specific needs.

Not to say that a private school could not implement services required for a child to succeed, but those costs go above the voucher and are the responsibility of the parent to pay.

Also, if the school does not implement the services required, the school is not accountable.  In the public setting, the school is held accountable for not following an IEP and there is a process for families to file complaints (NEA, 2008).


This is obviously a lot of information.

In short, it is a great idea for low-income families to have the right to a better education.

Currently, President Donald Trump is stating that he will provide 20 billion government dollars to put towards this new education plan.  States would then have to come up with 110 billion dollars, collectively for the system to be effective and to provide low-income families $12,000 in school choice funds (Turner, 2016).

But there are some flaws with the current voucher system that need to be addressed.

Especially for kids with disabilities, as private schools are not responsible to provide the adequate services required.


“5 Things to Look for in Betsy Devos’ Confirmation Hearing,” Eric Westervelt, npr Ed, 2017 http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/01/17/509157827/5-things-to-look-for-in-betsy-devos-confirmation-hearings

“Under Devos Here is how School Choice Might Work,” Anya Kamenetz, npr Ed, 2017 http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/01/31/512507538/under-devos-heres-how-school-choice-might-work

“School Vouchers 101: What They are and how do they Work?” Cory Turner, npr Ed, 2016 http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/12/07/504451460/school-choice-101-what-it-is-how-it-works-and-does-it-work

“School Vouchers: Pros and Cons” Penn Whartone, University of Pennsylvania, 2015 https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/1076-school-vouchers-pros-and-cons

“IDEA 2004 and Private Schools” Wrightslaw, 2010 http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/idea-2004-and-private-schools/

“The Case Against Vouchers” National Education Association, 2015 http://www.nea.org/home/19133.htm

“10 Reasons Why Private School Vouchers Should be Rejected,” Americans United, 2011 https://www.au.org/church-state/february-2011-church-state/featured/10-reasons-why-private-school-vouchers-should-be

“Voucher Schemes: A Bad IDEA for Students with Disabilities” An NEA policy brief, 2008 http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB14_SpecEdVouchers08.pdf

“Analyzing Autism Vouchers in Ohio,” Policy Matters Ohio, 2008, www.policymattersohio.org/AnalyzingAutismVouchers.htm





17 thoughts on “What are School Vouchers?

  1. I’m fearful of what this may mean for families. Although my daughter will not be school age for a few years, I can only wonder what the situation will be at that time. Right now, signs are pointing towards home schooling…

    1. Yes, this will have to play out. It is not the first time the idea has come up, but it seems this is the path the current administration wants to take. It appears to be very expensive and will not benefit everyone.

  2. Rep Massie from Kentucky introduced HR899. A bill to abolish the Dept of Ed. That is truly scary. Without federal oversight does that mean IDEA goes too? I just keep checking news & government sites and hoping for the best. Thank you for breaking down the voucher issue & posting all the info.

    1. IDEA will stay for students who remain in the public school system. But the system will have less funding. So if it is hard to get a school to approve services for an IEP that may benefit a child with disabilities now, I would imagaine that struggle will become even harder. Sure! I have spent the past two days reading all that I could find to learn about the voucher. Had to spread the word!

  3. The one bright spot in this is special needs parents are the strongest parents I have ever met. The fight will be one this country has never seen before if the needs of these children are in any way compromised.

  4. Reading your post scares the shit out of me for the future of disabled students! It is not their fault they are disabled. If the child has parents that do not take personal intrest in the kid’s education they will never be correctly given an education. So now the world is left with uneducated disabled people who will be a drain on society for life!

    On the up side, if the parents are like you the child will recieve a great education because their parents took the time needed to get them educated for life!

  5. Until private schools are required to follow all guidelines that public schools follow, I’m fully against vouchers for private school. Charters fill the niche of public schools with specific adaptations to education (bilingual, STEM, Arts, etc). We have, right or wrong, decided as a public what is proper for students, and our pubic funds must follow those guidelines. Further, I don’t want to fund Breitbart middle school. Suddenly, I’m discovering that all the bloggers I follow live in Pennsylvania.

    1. I agree – until the guidelines are the same I can’t really support the vouchers, either. And public funds must follow those guidelines set.

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