December 6, 2002

Survey Finds Tepid Support for Vouchers Among Legislators

TEMPE, Ariz.— Vouchers rank last among the education reform options favored by state legislators in a new survey, even among those who favor the school-voucher concept in principle.

Both critics and supporters of vouchers consider other school reforms—teacher development and early childhood education initiatives, among them—far more effective, the survey found.

The survey, “K-12 Voucher Programs and Education Policy: An Exploratory Study of Policy Maker Attitudes and Opinions,” was conducted by Dan Laitsch of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and is published in the current issue of Education Policy Analysis Archives, a peer-reviewed on-line journal.

The centerpiece of the report is a mail-in survey sent to legislators in six states in October 2000. Three states—Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida—have voucher programs. Three states —Michigan, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania—have not enacted voucher programs but have been the sites of vocal pro-voucher movements.

About 9.5 percent of the 936 legislators who were mailed surveys returned them. The sample was demographically similar to the entire population of legislators. A high percentage of those who returned surveys sat on legislative education committees, suggesting that the results offer “insight into the responses of legislators who are and have been in key leadership positions on education issues,” the survey report says.

Not quite half—48 percent—of the legislators surveyed supported some form of voucher program. But even among supporters, other reforms were looked on more favorably.

“Respondents did not support the idea that vouchers would help equalize funding, or provide new schools, increased investment, or improved cost controls,” the author writes. “In fact, they felt that voucher programs might result in reduced services to special education students and increased competition for the ‘best’ students. Respondents were also concerned that private schools would raise tuition and fees, ultimately limiting access to the schools by poorer families.”

The study concludes that:

+ Vouchers lack widespread support as a systemic reform strategy, even among legislators who favor vouchers in some form.

+ Despite tepid support for vouchers compared with other reforms, policy makers view market forces and competition as a positive force in education, indicating that voucher proponents have been successful in advancing this part of their argument.

+ The line remains ill-defined between schools meeting constituent needs—a positive trend—and the creation of fractured educational systems that are segregated by race, religion, or other values.

+ Most policy makers in the survey who are undecided about vouchers are Democrats, suggesting that while proponents might make significant inroads in winning support among Democrats, it seems likely that such support would result in only a limited voucher system largely restricted to the poor, to students in failing schools, or both.

K-12 voucher programs and education policy: An exploratory study of policy maker attitudes and opinions, Education Policy Analysis Archives, is available at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n48/.]

The Education Policy Studies Laboratory (EPSL) at Arizona State University offers high quality analyses of national education policy issues and provides an analytical resource for educators, journalists, and citizens. Visit the EPSL website at http://edpolicylab.org.

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