New Research: Vouchers— schools do the choosing

The racist history of vouchers is very clear and apparent. What was the origin of the school voucher movement? The Daily Kos described the history of vouchers in the piece Jim Crow and school vouchers

The Richmond News-Leader wrote at the time: “To acknowledge the Court’s authority [in Brown v Board] does not mean the South is helpless. It is not to abandon hope. Rather, it is to enter into a long course of lawful resistance … let us pledge ourselves to litigate this thing for fifty years. If one remedial law is ruled invalid, then let us try another; and if the second is ruled invalid, then let us enact a third.”

The voucher ethos was thus born. Public school funding must now be privatized. If we submit a bill calling such a scheme “vouchers,” and that bill fails, re-submit the same bill and call the scheme “taxpayer savings grant programs.”

confederate flagTom P. Brady, Circuit Judge of the 14th Judicial District from 1950 to 1963, and later a member of the Mississippi Supreme Court, wrote, “We have already, by Constitutional amendment, authorized our legislature as other Southern states will do, to abolish the public schools if the Negro and white children are ever integrated therein. Make no mistake about it, we will abolish our public school system and establish private schools for our white children…” (“Segregation and the South” [1957])

Herman Talmadge, Georgia governor from 1948 to 1955 and Senator from 1957 to 1981, had this to say: “Lawyers thought (the Brown decision) was a judicial rape of the Constitution, and I concur … they couldn’t send enough bayonets down to compel the people to send their children to school with Nigras.

“I sponsored a constitutional amendment to enable the General Assembly to close the schools at its discretion and to pay a subsidy to children, both white and Negro, out of state funds to enable them to go to private schools … there is no requirement for a public school system — we changed that in November, 1954. Furthermore, if a court ordered a Georgia county to integrate, the state would withhold funds from that entity. Then we would be required to proceed with the private school system.” (as quoted in John Barlow Martin, The Deep South Says Never (1957)]

So, yeah. Vouchers are a direct product of the Old Confederacy’s reaction to Brown. That’s pretty clear. (Also notice the similarity to conservatives’ current solutions to marriage equality: just abolish state-sponsored marriage.)

In the 1970s, a strange thing happened. Jim Crow met Milton Friedman, and the old, overtly racist language of people like Brady and Talmadge was retired in favor of “school choice,” “competition,” and stopping the terrible “monopoly” of public schools and teachers’ unions. This was a message far more appealing to the new generation of emerging white Southern conservatives, since it achieved the same objectives with no overtly offensive epithets. And of course along with this language came sympathetic tones of great concern for the plight of brown-skinned people, supposedly yearning the loudest for vouchers. “Every poll has shown that the strongest supporters of vouchers are the low-income blacks,” Friedman said, “and yet hardly a single black leader has been willing to come out for vouchers.” Brown vs. Board of Education was never mentioned again.

Milton Friedman himself said,


Chile is an important case study for market-based reforms because they are the only country in the world where they have universal vouchers— which means every student has a school voucher. Research on Chile has clearly demonstrated the stratifying purpose that vouchers achieve in a market-based “choice” system. My first article with Dr. Jaime Portales was discussed in the post New Research: Vouchers Increase Segregation and Offer Benefits to the Few. In that study published in the peer-reviewed journal Education Policy Analysis Archives we found that in a market where the voucher is distributed equally and to everyone, the final result is a complex scenario of education stratification where differences and segregation primarily functions as an advantage for high-SES students. Prior peer-reviewed research on vouchers in Chile, and the current study, demonstrate that specific family and student characteristics, as well as, the family/student´s area of residence jointly determine the spectrum of educational choices available in a universal voucher system.

Citation: Portales, J. & Vazquez-Heilig, J. (2014) Understanding How Universal Vouchers Have Impacted Urban School Districts’ Enrollment in Chile. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(68). Retrieved from

homeremieOur newest voucher study was published this summer in the peer reviewed Multidisciplinary Journal of Educational Research. The research examines how school leaders in urban districts have responded to a universal school voucher system in Chile. We conducted interviews with public district school officials and principals. We found that school leaders in the wealthy public schools have confronted the market policy by implementing similar cream-skimming measures as private-voucher schools. In comparison, the poorer public-municipal schools are not able to select their students. The respondents in our study elucidated that parent and student choice is limited because specific family and student characteristics (i.e. SES background, test scores), as well as the family/student residence within the city (in a relatively wealthy or poor section of the city) influence the spectrum of opportunities a student will have and the school he/she will enter. As a result, the voucher system introduces educational opportunities for students who have the capital (pecuniary and non-pecuniary) to enable a move from one public school to another within an area, from a public school to private-voucher school within an area, from one district to another, or from a public school within an area to a private school within another district.

There are winners and losers in a market. Stratification and inequality is magnified in a voucher market for students without various forms of capital.

Citation: Portales, J., & Vasquez Heilig, J. (2015). Understanding Universal Vouchers and Urban Public Schools in Santiago de Chile: Educational Administrators’ Responses to Choice. Multidisciplinary Journal of Educational Research, 5(2), 194-237.

Nevertheless, a small group of foundations, think tanks, wealthy individuals, folks living in the house with Monsieur Calvin J. Candie (see the post Ed Policy Unchained: Django, House Negros, and School Reformers —> @ntlBAEO), and academics are trying very very very hard to convince you that vouchers are a brilliant idea. We already know the history of vouchers and the discriminatory purposes for which they were created. We also know that vouchers increase segregation and offer benefits to the few when studied in a universal (every student has one) market. We don’t need to implement decades of vouchers to just turn back later when the result and motivation of voucher proponents are already very clear.

See also Will Market-Based Education Produce More or Less Student Uprising?

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on vouchers click here.

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