This week’s School of Thought column at TIME again goes with the “5 myths” meme. This week I look at school vouchers, which are reemerging as an issue in many places and on Capitol Hill:
One of the most contentious budget debates this year may be over something the president did not include in his 2012 spending plan — school vouchers. Now more often called “scholarships,” vouchers have been debated for decades, but support for these initiatives is on the rise.
Let’s start with D.C. After years of discussion, Congress established a plan in 2004 to give 1,700 students in Washington a voucher of up to $7,500 to attend private and religious schools in the city as alternatives to the frequently lousy neighborhood schools. The program was controversial from the start — it was the first federal funding for vouchers in three decades. But in 2009, under intense pressure from the teachers unions, Congress and the Administration began to dismantle the program and no new students are participating today. New Speaker of the House John Boehner says restoring the program is a top priority.
Meanwhile, there are rumblings about voucher proposals emerging in states around the country including Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida. In Douglas County, Colorado members of the school board want to create a voucher program just for that county. Meanwhile states like Louisiana, Ohio, and Florida already have established voucher programs and the once-landmark and controversial voucher program in Milwaukee now serves more than 20,000 students with little fanfare.
What does the renewed push for vouchers mean for our education system? That is of course a matter of debate. Proponents and opponents make a lot of overblown claims about what vouchers will or won’t do. But with a number of programs already in force, we actually know quite a bit about how they work. So, if this debate comes to a school system near you, here are five claims every parent should be skeptical about: