Vouchers are for kids' benefit

December 5, 2012 9:45AM

In a response to a recent column by the Tennessean‘s Gail Kerr that was critical of school choice, Beacon CEO Justin Owen submitted the following letter to the editor. An edited version appeared in today’s Tennessean. Below is the full letter as submitted.   With school vouchers, Gail Kerr wrote December 3, “The devil is indeed in the details.” For families in need of high-quality schools, the devil’s “in the delay.” That was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s declaration before enacting the nation’s largest voucher program in which more than half of all children statewide qualify to participate. Indiana’s record – and empirical studies – dispels the scare tactics used by Kerr, superintendents, unions, and others, well-intentioned or not, trying to maintain public schools’ monopoly. Kerr opined that voucher schools accept only “a small number of students,” the “smartest kids,” and the “best athletes.” In the first year of Indiana’s program, 85 percent of the 3,919 enrollees qualified for free and reduced-price lunch (students typically considered not the easiest to educate); 15 percent came from middle-income families. As further evidence private schools accept lower-income families using vouchers, worth $4,091 on average, 9,324 Indiana children enrolled in the program’s second year. Kerr’s opinion that “Vouchers would do nothing to improve the scores in public schools” is exactly that: an opinion. The fact is, 20 empirical studies have examined vouchers’ effects on public schools – 19 found they improve public schools academically, one found no impact, and none concluded vouchers harm public schools. As for Kerr’s concern vouchers “undermine the separation of church and state,” that issue was addressed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school vouchers are constitutional. But Kerr is right that vouchers raise questions. For voucher-using parents, that question becomes “Which school will best serve my child?” Justin Owen President, Beacon Center of Tennessee