In a modern world, every person has to be able to get access to a proper education. People should also be able to choose an educational institution that would provide them with opportunities for a better future. This choice should not be based solely on factors such as a person’s background and social and economic status because a higher-quality education often depends on people’s finances. A significant part of the population cannot afford to enroll their children in schools with higher expenses on their curriculums and probably better-quality learning programs. A way to provide children with education at a place of their choice is by using publicly funded tuition vouchers. However, it is debatable whether these vouchers have more benefits in a broad aspect. To see how publicly funded tuition vouchers affect the nation in general, one needs to examine their constitutionality as a method that provides education.
At first, there is a need to look at the foundations of publicly funded tuition vouchers. The origins of the vouchers lay at the start of civil society in the United States (Logan, 2018). In the beginning, the choice of school was made by those who found education to be important based on the school’s philosophy and location or particular religious regards (Logan, 2018). The modern school choice movement started developing in the XX century in court cases that focused on increased choices of quality public schools for all children (Logan, 2018). The movement was market-driven with a competitive style and valued freedom of choice, educational autonomy, and democracy (Logan, 2018).
With that being said, the school choice movement was promoted by free-market economist Milton Friedman who proposed granting vouchers for a certain amount of money for families to be used for educational purposes (Logan, 2018). Publicly funded tuition vouchers originated as a market-driven means to provide freedom of choice to get an education.
To examine the constitutionality of publicly funded tuition vouchers, one should look at constitutional principles that could be applied in such a case. Constitutional principles can be used as a guide to the interpretation of the constitution as they explain the government’s functions (Zhou, 2019). Although there are several principles, the ones that could be applied to vouchers relate to equality (Zhou, 2019). These days voucher programs support economically struggling populations providing them with the same opportunities to attend private schools as those from a better economic background have (Logan, 2018).
Moreover, most of the programs are based on a lottery system, and the recipients are chosen randomly, giving all the participants equal chances (Merritt et al., 2018). In relation to equality-based constitutional principles, the system of publicly funded tuition vouchers can be considered appropriate.
Furthermore, there is a need to determine the constitutionality of tuition vouchers based on racial equality. In Borden v. Louisiana State Board of Education, the court gave parents freedom of choice to use the tuition, making the system “constitutional” by benefiting children (Hackett & King, 2019, p. 243). However, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, tuitions were offered to parents but with the purpose of removing White children from public schools due to desegregation (Hackett & King, 2019).
At that time, some programs were offering money not only to parents but also to schools directly. However, in Coffey v. State Education Finance Commission, the judges concluded that the vouchers were “unconstitutional” because all schools receiving tuition payments except one had all-White students (Hackett & King, 2019, p. 240). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, voucher programs were often found unconstitutional, but the situation has changed since the 1980s and the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 (Hackett & King, 2019). Although there have been cases in which tuition vouchers were used unconstitutionally, these days, the programs align more with laws and the needs of people.
The Use of Vouchers
There is a need to analyze more than one state to see the impact of publicly funded tuition vouchers as a method that provides education because the situation can differ. More than 15 school voucher programs in the US account for 3400$ of average annual savings per student, all of whom receive help to attend schools of their choice (Lueken, 2020). Nevertheless, in New Jersey, for example, in the early 2000s, voucher programs were used to strip power from the Black community as a method of demographic control (Johnson, 2021). However, in 2020 New Jersey ranked second among all states in terms of education spending (Lueken, 2020).
On the other hand, Indiana has the largest school voucher program in the country, which was founded in 2011 (Sude et al., 2017). Indiana provides tuition for students whose families earn less than 67000$ per year and for those who have low grades or disabilities (Sude et al., 2017). By looking at the two states, one can say that providing education with tuition vouchers nowadays depends on how they were utilized when their implementation only began.
It may be helpful to look at one more state to better understand tuition vouchers. For example, a scholarship program was started in 2008 in Louisiana, which was pivotal in the mentioned before Borden v. Louisiana State Board of Education case (Sude et al., 2017). In that case, tuition vouchers were considered constitutional, and these days are still used to give children a chance to get a better education. The scholarship program provides vouchers for students whose families earn less than 61000$ a year and can support more than 7000 students annually (Sude et al., 2017). Providing education with voucher programs can be helpful if it aligns with people’s needs, but it also differs in each state.
Throughout history, publicly funded tuition vouchers have been affecting people differently. Originating as a part of the market-driven school choice movement, vouchers became a means used to spread racial disparities. As a method of providing education, tuition vouchers can be helpful if they align with the constitutional principles that focus on equality. However, several court cases have concluded that some of the voucher programs were unconstitutional in the XX century. Even at the beginning of the XXI century, some programs were more focused on racism rather than on providing education for children from economically struggling families.
Nevertheless, since the end of the last century, tuition vouchers have been used more in the way they were intended. With that being said, the constitutionality and overall development of vouchers vary in each state. For voucher programs to meet the public’s expectations and be more efficient, the implementation of more regulations may help. Publicly funded tuition vouchers have to be beneficial for the whole nation without being used to take advantage of any people.
Borden v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 168 La. 1005 (1928).
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
Coffey v. State Education Finance Commission, 296 F. Supp. 1389 (1969).
Hackett, U., & King, D. (2019). The reinvention of vouchers for a color-blind era: A racial orders account. Studies in American Political Development, 33(2), 234-257. Web.
Johnson, R. (2021). School choice as community disempowerment: Racial rhetoric about voucher policy in Urban America. Urban Affairs Review, 1-34. Web.
Logan, S. R. (2018). A historical and political look at the modern school choice movement. International Journal of Educational Reform, 27(1), 2-21. Web.
Lueken, M. F. (2020). A fiscal analysis of education savings accounts program in New Jersey. EdChoice. Web.
Merritt, C. C., Kennedy, S., & Farnworth, M. D. (2018). The civic dimension of school voucher programs. Public Integrity, 22(2), 154-169. Web.
Sude, Y., DeAngelis, C. A., & Wolf, P. J. (2017). Supplying choice: An analysis of school participation decisions in voucher programs in Washington, DC, Indiana, and Louisiana. Journal of School Choice, 12(1), 8-33. Web.
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).
Zhou, H. R. (2019). Legal principles, constitutional principles, and judicial review. The American Journal of Comparative Law, 67(4), 899-930. Web.