The Indiana school voucher program is under fire from a law suit claiming it is a government sponsorship of religion. The Colorado voucher program just lost a suit from the ACLU but the decision is expected to be overturned by a higher court claiming the lower court judge ignored settled law. Neither suit is expected to disrupt the current school year.
This brings up an important distinction, the difference between giving money to religion and money for education. In the Indiana case only 6 of the 242 nonpublic schools enrolled in the voucher programs were nonreligious but this is reflective of the number of ratio of secular and religious schools. The voucher for the Indiana students is less then the per student cost of education and so saves the school district money. But with tightening budgets, these vouchers are being blamed for lost funding.
Not surprisingly the biggest opponents to school choice are the unions and the teachers they represent. Since they only care about maintaining the status quo and not the students, it is not relevant to them that the students who use the vouchers show significant improvements at private schools. An important question to ask though is if the problem is the educational environment or the education itself that is making the difference. Either way, private schools continue to outperform the majority of public institutions.
As a libertarian, I believe that an paying for an education is the responsibility of the parents and the children not the public. While the late economist Milton Friedman agreed that privatizing the school system would produce better returns, he did advocate for a voucher system as a compromise. A voucher system, in theory at least, allows for the benefit of competition that forces schools to change and become more productive.
Former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne disagreed. Browne believed that since government money inevitably comes with strings attached that a voucher system actually threatened the success that private schools have had.
I agree with the late Harry Browne that such a threat is possible. However, there is some evidence that a voucher system does help to improve academic performance. If voucher programs can get past the constitutional hurdle in enough states, we may be able to see if in the end they are a net benefit.