Introduction: Are Vouchers a Panacea or Problematic? Pt. I

The rumors are that Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to declare vouchers “emergency legislation.”

Dan Patrick, recently appointed head of the Texas Senate Education Committee, is also pushing for “choice.” The Houston Chronicle stated:

Patrick is a strong supporter of school vouchers, which would allow tax money to flow to private and religious schools.

The Houston Chronicle also quoted Patrick as saying:

To me, school choice is the photo ID bill of this session

Vouchers, an old idea, are gaining prominence again in educational policy discussions in Texas and elsewhere (About a 150 years old according to Wikipedia). In fact, many countries have extensive experience experimenting with vouchers and a market based system. When comparing voucher policies across the globe, it is clear that there are many approaches (McEwan, 2000). Plans differ in at least three main aspects: scope (targeted vs. universal, small-scale vs. large-scale), financial provisions (with or without add-on payments from families/students) and the degree of regulatory power governments have within the system (low, medium or high). Considering the diversity of alternatives within voucher systems, a variety of approaches have been implemented in different countries. In the United States, small-scale and low-regulation voucher plans have been implemented (i.e. Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and Florida) and are typically targeted to low-income students and/or students attending low-performing schools.

The only examples of large-scale voucher programs can be found outside of the United States in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Sweden. In the 1990s, Colombia developed a large-scale voucher plan targeted at low-income secondary students across the nation (Gauri & Vawda, 2004). In the same decade, Sweden experimented with a universal voucher system administered at the local level where students had the option to choose between public schools and approved private/independent schools (Carnoy, 1998). The Chilean voucher system takes a universal approach and has the largest implementation in the world. During the early 1980s, the Chilean education system underwent decentralization and privatization. The reform transferred responsibility for public school management from the National Ministry of Education to local municipalities. The privatization approach consisted of two key elements: increased public finance of privately owned schools through vouchers (private-voucher schools), and the transfer of teachers from the public employee system to the private sector. Vouchers specifically allows students living in any municipality to apply to any public or private school within any other municipality.

Wikipedia notes:

The voucher system in Chile has been controversial and has led to periodic mass protests, especially the 2006 Penguin Revolution and the 2011 student protests in Chile.

The Washington Post also recently discussed the Chile voucher system.

As the Cloaking Inequity promo trailer alluded to, this week a new series of posts written in collaboration with Dr. Jaime Portales will address several question relating to vouchers based on what we already know from the research literature including:

  • Do they improve achievement?
  • Do they intensify segregation?
  • Do they create more access to high-quality education? If so, for whom?
  • Do they create entanglement between church and state?
  • Do they buttress or deconstruct the public school system?

The research references we will be drawing from during this series are pasted below:

Auguste, S., & Valenzuela, J. P. (2004). Do students benefit from school competition? The Chilean experience. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, MI.

Bellei, C. (2009). The public-private controversy in Chile. In: School choice international, exploring public-private partnerships. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bravo, D., Contreras, D., & Sanhueza, C. (1999). Rendimiento educacional, desigualdad y brecha de desempeño público/privado: Chile 1982’ 1997. Departamento de Economía, Universidad de Chile.

Carnoy, M. (1998). National voucher plans in Chile and Sweden: Did privatization reforms make for better education? Comparative Education Review, 42,(3), 309-337.

Corvalán, J. (2003). Financiamiento compartido en la educación subvencionada: Fundamentos, resultados y perspectivas. In: Hevia, Renato. La educación en Chile, hoy. Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.

Elacqua, G., Schneider, M., & Buckley, J. (2006). School choice: Is it class or the classroom? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 25 (3), 577- 601.

Gallego, F. (2002). Competencia y resultados educativos: Teoría y evidencia para Chile. Working paper N 150: Central Bank of Chile.

Gallego, F. (2004). School choice, incentives, and academic outcomes: evidence for Chile. Working paper: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Gauri, V. (1998). School choice in Chile: Two decades of educational reform. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press.

Gauri, V. & Vawda, A. (2004). Vouchers for basic education in developing economies: An accountability perspective. World Bank Res Obs.19 (2), 259-280.

Hsieh, Ch., & Urquiola, M. (2004). When schools compete, how do they compete? An assessment of Chile’s nationwide school voucher program. (Working Paper No. 10008). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Hsieh, Ch., & Urquiola, M. (2006). The effects of generalized school choice on achievement and stratification: Evidence from Chile’s voucher program. Journal of Public Economics, 90, 1477- 1503.

Larrañaga, O., Peirano, C., & Falck, D. (2009a). Una mirada al interior del sector municipal. In: Marcel M. / Raczynski D. (eds.) La asignatura pendiente: Claves para la revalidación de la educación pública de gestión local en Chile. Santiago de Chile: Uqbar Editores.

McEwan, P. J. (2000). The potential impact of large-scale voucher programs. Review of Educational Research, 70(2), pp. 103-149.

McEwan, P. J., & Carnoy, M. (2000). The effectiveness and efficiency of private schools in Chile’s voucher system. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(3), 213- 239.

Mizala, A., & Romaguera, P. (2000). School performance and choice: The Chilean experience. The Journal of Human Resources, 35(2), 392- 417.

Mizala, A., & Romaguera, P. (2003). Equity and educational performance. Working Paper N 136. Centro de Ecomomía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.

Neal, D. (2002). How vouchers could change the market for education. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16(4), 25-44.

Nechyba, T. (2000). Mobility, targeting and private school vouchers. American Economic Review. 1(1), 79- 86.

Parry, T. R. (1996). Will pursuit of higher quality sacrifice equal opportunity in education? An analysis of the education voucher system in Santiago. Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press). 77(4), 821-841.

Parry, T. R. (1997). Achieving balance in decentralization: A case study of education decentralization in Chile. World Development, 25(2), 211- 225.

Portales, J. (2012). Understanding how vouchers impact municipalities in Chile, and how municipalities respond to market pressures. Austin, Texas: University of Texas at Austin.

Sapelli, C., & Vial, B. (2002). The performance of private and public schools in the Chilean education system. Cuadernos de Economía, 39(18), 423- 454.

Sugarman, S. (1999). School choice and public funding. In: Sugarman S. & Kemerer F. (eds.) School choice and social controversy: Politics, policy and law. Washington DC: Brookings Institution.

Torche, F. (2005). Privatization reform and inequality of educational opportunity: The case of Chile. Sociology of Education, 78(4), 316- 343.

Valenzuela, J.P., Bellei, C., & De los Ríos, D. (2006). Evolución de la segregación socioeconómica de los estudiantes chilenos y su relación con el financiamiento compartido. FONIDE: Ministerio de Educación de Chile.


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