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School Vouchers: An Educational Dilemma

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

After six years of attending a private school in Indianapolis, I ventured back into the public school system. Although I attend one of the highest ranked public high schools in the state, my eyes were opened to the differences in the quality of public education systems. Recently, a video tour of my high school, sparked quite a bit of backlash from people who attend or have attended less affluent school districts. The reason for the controversy surrounding the high school stems from the video unintentionally displaying obvious disproportionalities in schools. Whether it be from the quality of education or the resources available. These inequities have become all too apparent and have led to many parents seeking alternate options for their children. They have found the next best thing: school vouchers.

School vouchers are government or state funded grants allowing parents to choose a private or parochial school for their children. Indiana has one of the biggest school voucher programs in the United States.

Upon first inspection, there are a few major flaws with the institution of school vouchers.

Firstly, they seem to violate the Establishment Clause of the first amendment. The first amendment ensures the right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of religion. Within the right to practice any religion; there are two main clauses: the Establishment clause and the Free exercise clause. The Establishment clause is the most relevant when examining the apparent unconstitutionality in the school vouchers. In essence, the Establishment clause states that the government may not pass any laws that concern religion nor can they pass laws abridging the free practice of any religion.

Since school vouchers are used for sending students to primarily parochial or religious schools, vouchers get their funding from the government and taxpayer dollars.

In my opinion, this is a violation of the first amendment. According to the National Center for Research Statistics, of the 5.8 million students attending private school, only 24 percent attend nonsectarian schools.

Furthermore, in Indiana, religious schools are significantly benefited by school voucher programs. Roncalli High School, which received $4.2 million of taxpayer dollars and 655 voucher students is a parochial institution.

Similarly, Heritage Christian School received the second most funding at $3.7 million and 606 voucher students. Both are parochial institutions. This data suggests that the majority of school vouchers are going toward religious schools, in violation of the first amendment. Moreover, according to state data in 2017, two thirds of students of St. Jude’s School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, receives public dollars to pay for their private tuition. Tax dollars should be used toward the secular education of all, and not the religious education of a few.

Secondly, they siphon away funds from already struggling public school systems and redistribute tax payer dollars to private schools and middle class students. Taxpayer dollars should be put to the benefit of all students. Ultimately, every parent wants the best for their kids, but why should that opportunity only be given to a few. Every child deserves that chance to not only succeed but excel. School voucher programs take the opportunities away from the majority.

I do recognize the merit in sending some students to schools with better educational programs. However, the problem is school voucher programs target middle class students who already have access to decent public school systems, and not those who are really in need of a rigorous, disciplined environment. In 2013, politicians in Indiana expanded the program to encompass those who had even attended public school, and even those who are in the middle class. Data from the Indiana Department of Education showed that a greater number of students come from metropolitan areas than rural areas. In addition, the study showed that in 2016, 60 percent of students in the voucher program are caucasian, and 19 percent were hispanic, while 12 percent were african american. Only 1 percent of Indiana students were leaving failing public schools. This further proves that the money from school voucher programs are not distributed to where they are needed the most.

Many say the alleged failure of public school systems are due to the apathy of the government, and the underfunding of schools. However, in actuality, it is due to a plethora of issues. A few being, the shared apathy of students, teachers, and parents, drug and alcohol abuse programs, and the ineffective use of government funding. The government actually does spend money on public schools, but it's not the amount, rather how the money is being spent.

Public schooling systems and the surrounding community are fundamentally linked; therefore, if one improves, the other will follow. We have already tried to improve public education, but to no avail. If the government were to funnel more money into cleaning up communities; reducing drug and alcohol abuse, making it harder to access firearms, and decreasing crime rates, the quality of public schooling systems would improve. The better and safer the environment is, there will be an influx of better teachers, and more willing students and parents.

Obviously, this is no easy feat, and the government has been working to improve public school systems, but not effectively. School voucher programs only provide a temporary bail out, but it is not a long term solution. It will take time to raise the level of our public education institutions, but it is a battle that is worth fighting. For the sake of posterity and the future.

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