A contentious but common part of many education reform plans, vouchers
help parents pay private school tuition using municipal, state, or federal
funds. Advocates say vouchers give parents the opportunity to educate
their children as they see fit and force public schools to improve by
introducing competition for funding. Opponents contend that voucher plans
jeopardize a fundamental public good of offering everyone high-quality
public schooling; the dollars given to vouchers are dollars lost for strapped
To complete her dissertation at the University of Wisconsin, Maria
Ferreyra, a PhD candidate in economics, explored the behavior of city
dwellers as they chose their houses, neighborhoods, and public, private,
or Catholic schools. With the Alliance Condor flock at the University
of Wisconsin and an economic model developed by Duke University's Tom
Nechyba, she analyzed the ways in which introducing school voucher programs
in the nation's 20 largest cities might influence where people live, how
they spend their money, and what schools they send their children to.
"Currently, many households opt out of the public school system to send their children to private schools," Ferreyra says. "These households pay tuition in addition to the property taxes used to support local public schools. There are also many households that would prefer private schools but face financial constraints that restrict them to public schools."
Voucher programs are scarce, which makes judging their effects and plotting their future difficult. Only Milwaukee, Cleveland, and the state of Florida have test programs, according to a December 2001 report by Education Week, and all are nascent, small-scale efforts. Ferreyra's work is neither a red light nor a green light. It is, however, an excellent tool for answering questions about potential large-scale voucher programs that haven't been implemented to date.
Access Online | Posted 3-26-2002