A growing number of lawmakers across the country are taking steps to redefine public education, shifting the debate from the classroom to the pocketbook. Instead of simply financing a traditional system of neighborhood schools, legislators and some governors are headed toward funneling public money directly to families, who would be free to choose the kind of schooling they believe is best for their children, be it public, charter, private, religious, online or at home.
On Tuesday, after a legal fight, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program as constitutional. This month, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama signed tax-credit legislation so that families can take their children out of failing public schools and enroll them in private schools, or at least in better-performing public schools.
In Arizona, which already has a tax-credit scholarship program, the Legislature has broadened eligibility for education savings accounts. And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, in an effort to circumvent a Legislature that has repeatedly defeated voucher bills, has inserted $2 million into his budget so low-income children can obtain private school vouchers.
Proponents say tax-credit and voucher programs offer families a way to escape failing public schools. But critics warn that by drawing money away from public schools, such programs weaken a system left vulnerable after years of crippling state budget cuts — while showing little evidence that students actually benefit.