School Choice & Charters

Transparency Time For Vouchers?

By Erik W. Robelen — March 31, 2009 1 min read

Aiming to “restart” the dialogue on accountability for publicly funded voucher programs, a Washington think tank argues in a new report that voucher proponents need to “wake up—and catch up to the educational demands and expectations of the 21st century.”

The report—released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which long has backed private school vouchers—suggests a sliding-scale approach. The idea is that the more voucher students a particular religious or secular private school enrolled, the greater would be its obligation for both public transparency and accountability.

“We think the time has come for the school voucher movement to come to terms with the idea of accountability for participating schools,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president for national programs and policy at the Fordham Institute.

About a dozen tailored voucher programs operate across the country, from the $14 million federal program for low-income students in the District of Columbia to a $10 million Louisiana program launched last year for low-income New Orleanians.

The report notes that of all the arguments that critics of voucher programs advance, the one that may carry the most weight is whether the schools are held publicly accountable, especially in light of the increase in demands imposed on public schools by the federal government and states.

Fordham consulted 20 experts who are generally supportive of school choice in producing the paper, and outlined their stances on some key issues. The majority of experts surveyed agreed that participating private schools should not face new government regulations regarding their day-to-day operations, the report said.

The experts generally agreed that voucher programs as a whole should be evaluated by third-party researchers. But consensus broke down on the issues of making schools’ academic results and information from financial audits public, the report said.

The think tank said in the report that its “‘sliding scale’ model won’t please everyone and likely won’t thrill anyone.” But, Fordham added, “no solution is going to be perfect.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2009 edition of Education Week

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