VOICES: Education vouchers in Ohio offer needed choices

Editor’s Note: This contributed column is in response to a September column that was critical of Ohio’s school voucher program.

The debate over school voucher programs has raged for some years now around the country. In Ohio, this debate has culminated in the current expansion of the Ohio ED Choice Scholarship program. On one side of this issue are those who believe that vouchers hurt public schools, lack accountability, and unfairly benefit families who do not need financial assistance.

All of these claims are easily countered with factual data that shows most private schools, particularly the parochial schools, perform better academically which fosters healthy competition. This incentivizes public schools to improve. In Ohio, there are ample measures in place for schools to maintain the necessary accountability, proving that funds are used for their intended purposes. Regarding the notion that some families do not need assistance, all families, regardless of their income, have a right to see their hard earned tax dollars used to educate their children in a way that fits with their values, beliefs, and standards. When Ohioans ponder what side of this debate they choose to adhere to, here are some important points to factor in.

First, philosophically, parents have a right to direct the learning and growth of their children, not government run schools. Parents should have the freedom to decide whether their children attend a private, parochial, or public school, regardless of their income. However, that freedom is limited for low income families. Therefore, voucher systems are necessary. But even if a family is not in need of financial assistance, it is still philosophically right to allow their tax dollars to follow their children to the school of parental choice.

Second, it has been well documented over a period of many years that private and parochial schools statistically perform far better than their public school counterparts academically, and in terms of student interpersonal development. This is most true when compared to failing public school districts. The fact is that private and parochial schools better serve students in their academic learning. Additionally, private, and particularly, parochial schools are more effective in fostering positive student interactions. This serves to create an environment that is both physically and socially safer than many public schools. Such schools are worth rewarding, and vouchers go a long way to support schools that are succeeding.

Third, the families that need private and parochial options the most are also the ones most likely to be locked out of these options without a voucher program. Students trapped in failing public schools are free to live up to their potential when they have the option to attend schools that educationally are succeeding. Withholding assistance from these families keeps them in a system that fails academically, socially, and in many other ways. Vouchers offer families in failing systems the opportunity to break free of a vicious cycle of failure and poverty.

Fourth, vouchers foster healthy competition between private/parochial and public schools. As we have seen countless times in American society, competition has incentivized businesses and other organizations to constantly improve in order to continue to exist. This has always been true for private and parochial schools. Public schools for decades have gone largely unchallenged, and as a result, have only declined. Voucher support for private and parochial schools forces the necessity of competition which incentivizes all schools to innovate and improve.

So clearly, the right decision for Ohioans is to support school voucher programs. As these issues are debated and move through our legislative bodies, it behooves Ohioans to offer support to their legislators in the effort to the continual expansion of Ohio’s ED Choice Scholarship program.

Jason Detty is the superintendent at Salem Christian Academy in Clayton, OH.

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