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School Vouchers

Under most education systems, government funding is allocated to state-run schools that enjoy the exclusive right to offer public education services. School vouchers are an alternative funding mechanism in which parents receive a voucher that can be redeemed at any state-run or independent school of their choice. According to economists ranging from the eighteenth century's Adam Smith to contemporary Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, parental choice, competition between schools, and other market forces improve educational quality and lower costs for all families.

The states of Maine and Vermont have had small-scale voucher programs operating since the 1800s, but attention in the early twenty-first century was focused on more recent systems such as the one serving Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Critics argue that vouchers violate the separation of church and state (because parents can use them at private schools run by religious organizations), and that they fail to serve the most needy and difficult to educate. Others caution that existing programs are too limited to offer the benefits of a true education marketplace. Defenders point to court rulings and mounting experimental evidence to rebut these charges.


Coulson, Andrew J. Market Education: The Unknown History. New York: Transaction Books, 1999.

Henig, Jeffrey R. Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Levin, Henry M. Privatizing Education: Can the School Marketplace Deliver Freedom of Choice, Efficiency, Equity, and Social Cohesion? Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.

Lieberman, Myron. Privatization and Educational Choice. New York:St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Merrifield, John. The School Choice Wars. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education, 2001.

Andrew Coulson

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7