A decade ago, almost any discussion about reforming the nation’s public schools included vouchers. The idea of letting students use taxpayer dollars to attend private schools appealed to conservatives, who liked the notion of subjecting public schools to competition. Some Democratic mayors, frustrated with the slow pace of school improvement, also rallied behind vouchers.
Then, vouchers got overtaken by other ideas about how to shake up public schools. Unions vehemently opposed vouchers, arguing they would starve public schools of funding. Vouchers were left out of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, making it difficult for programs to gain a foothold in school districts. More recently, the Obama administration left vouchers out of its Race to the Top grant program, even as it endorsed other reforms such as charter schools and pay-for-performance plans for teachers.