School choice has become a battleground. Critics claim programs that give financial support to families who chose private education weaken public schools. Proponents maintain that the advantages of choosing where to spend education dollars reach beyond academics.
School voucher programs let parents use state money (most of which is generated through taxes) to select schools for their children. Vouchers can be used toward entry to a school with an outstanding science or arts curriculum or with religious training, for example. They’re especially helpful to families that couldn’t otherwise afford private school.
Supporters say vouchers hold schools accountable to parents instead of to school districts or governments. Thirty-two states plus Washington, D.C., allow school vouchers or similar programs. Wisconsin introduced them three decades ago.
Many low-income parents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, neighborhoods like the mainly African-American north side or Latino south side say without vouchers, their children couldn’t attend faith-based institutions. They say those schools teach structure and values in ways public ones can’t—or won’t.
Annii Kinepoway attends Milwaukee’s St. Marcus Lutheran School. The eighth grader explains what she loves best at school: the good Lord and good grades.
“I like knowing there’s somebody you can ask for help if you need it. Somebody is there and looking over you,” she says of her newfound faith.
Annii’s mother can afford this opportunity only because of school choice programs. About 94% of St. Marcus’ students participate in them.
Urban, faith-based schools don’t necessarily outperform public ones on test scores. But their students enjoy other results—from better college graduation rates to lower drug use, says education professor Patrick Wolf.
Faith-based schools “contribute more to the community than just educating the kids,” Wolf says.
Jill Voss uses Arizona’s tuition assistance to send her three children to Phoenix Christian School. She’s an alumna, as are her parents and grandparents.
She values “knowing my kids were getting a good Christian foundation to their schooling,” Voss says.
Sixth-grader Diamond Figueroa attends Phoenix Christian with financial assistance—as do most of her schoolmates. She wasn’t always comfortable in public school, even though more students there were Hispanic, as she is.
“Everyone here is so much nicer and welcoming,” she says. “I am not afraid to ask questions.”
Experts say racial divisions of many urban neighborhoods affect school performance. St. Marcus superintendent Henry Tyson mentions 14 mostly low-income and African-American schools in his area. Only St. Marcus has more than 20% of students adept in reading. “We want kids to know they’re redeemed children of God,” Tyson says. That goes way beyond academics.
Why? In God’s order, parents are responsible for their children. (Proverbs 22:6) School voucher programs help them make choices that reflect their faith and values.