By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, March 5, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - An in-depth and wide-ranging study by Dr. Greg Forster, Ph.D., of the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, has concluded that school voucher programs in the US improve academic achievement in public schools.

The school voucher program allows parents to use public funds to send their children to the school of their choice, public or private, and has been praised by many as among the most prominent and successful reforms in the education field.

According to the Friedman Foundation, 160,000 students in the US currently are being served by one of 24 school choice programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Critics of the voucher program, however, claim that vouchers harm public schools by "draining away" money and "creaming off" the best students.

Voucher proponents, on the other hand, argue that vouchers improve public schools, pointing to evidence that vouchers save money for public school budgets, rather than "draining" money, and introduce a healthy level of competition. Advocates also argue that vouchers do not only send the best students to private schools but allow students to find the right schools to serve their individual needs.

The study, titled "A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools," analyzed "all available empirical studies on how vouchers affect academic performance in public schools."

It found that 16 of 17 empirical studies show that vouchers actually improve public schools, while the one remaining study found that vouchers had no visible impact on public schools. Significantly, that one study, in Washington DC, was also the only study conducted on a voucher program that intentionally protects public schools from the impact of competition.

The study cites research in states including Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont, that compared schools where a majority of students were eligible for vouchers to those where fewer students were eligible. It found that schools that were more exposed to vouchers reported higher gains in math, science and language scores.

The study concludes that, "Even if vouchers did not improve public schools, there would still be other reasons to implement them. They provide a better education to those who use them, they provide better services for disabled students, they put students into schools that are more racially integrated, they improve students’ civic values, they save the public money, and so forth."

"The benefits of competition in education are clearly established by the evidence. The only remaining question is whether the evidence will be permitted to shape public debate on the question of vouchers."

In related news, a school voucher program in Washington DC is reportedly in jeopardy, according to a New York Times report. According to the report a spending bill passed by the House last week included language saying that the vouchers would "only be available upon enactment of reauthorization of that program by Congress and the adoption of legislation by the District of Columbia approving such reauthorization."

The federally funded DC school-voucher program, called Opportunity Scholarships, was established in 2004, and currently provides annual scholarships of up to $7,500 for about 1,700 underprivileged students to attend private schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue reacted to the development, saying: "We apparently have money these days for every conceivable government program and corporate bailout, but we may come up short in providing scholarship money to the indigent in the nation’s capital. What is really disturbing about this is the fact that those who claim to champion the interests of the poor are the very ones standing in their way. That’s because their real allegiance is to the teachers unions who funnel money to them; it is not to the poor.

Donohue also suggested that the decision against the voucher program is hypocritical on the part of the Obamas, who send their own children to a private school. "Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the District is dead last in academic achievement," he said. "Barack and Michelle Obama, like most of the millionaires in the Congress who have school age children, are very well aware of this. Which is why they spend their money on private or parochial schools."

Last summer LifeSiteNews reported on Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the DC school voucher program.

Obama originally told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in February, 2008, that he supported the voucher programs, but in June announced his intentions to squash the DC program.

"Barack Obama prefers private education for his daughters but won’t give DC parents the same opportunity," said Brian Burch, President of Fidelis, a Catholic-based political, legal, research and educational organization, at the time.
 
"Vouchers are Change," he continued. "Rather than subjecting kids to rotting schools, vouchers have brought change to hundreds of families, who opted for private or parochial schools. If Barack Obama had fought for this program, it would be saved. But he refuses to help these low-income families. By supporting the teachers union, he sadly has become the Status Quo Candidate on education."

Link to the full report by the Friedman Foundation: http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/downloadFile.do?id=357

Read related LSN articles:

Obama Flip-Flops on D.C. School Voucher Program - Now Intends to Squash it
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08062507.html

Teacher Unions Real Reason Utah Parents Lost School Choice Vote
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/nov/07110905.html