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The EDifier

September 19, 2017

New report details history of school vouchers in US

The Center For American Progress (CAP) recently released a report on the history of vouchers in the United States, a reform strategy that has garnered renewed interest in the Trump Administration, despite it’s murky origins and outcomes.

Image result for prince edward county protest

The report begins by referencing a 1951 strike organized by black high school students in Virginia’s Prince Edward County who were lobbying for a new school with improved facilities and resources. The students were convinced, with the help of lawyers and the NAACP, to sue the district for segregation. Their story was a classic example of the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that allowed racial segregation to flourish even after the abolishment of slavery and it was cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.  After the Supreme Court ruled that public schools had to integrate black students, many districts found ways to get around the verdict. Prince Edward was one of the most extreme examples of the lengths some communities went to avoid adhering to the law.

The county decided to drastically decrease public education spending to the minimum $150,000 and shut down all public schools in 1959. The closure lasted for five years.  Officials thought if public schools weren’t open, they couldn’t be integrated. During this five year period the state offered tuition grants, specifically for white students, to attend schools in neighboring counties.  The white residents of Prince Edward also came together and built a private school, Prince Edward Academy, that was only for white students.  Between 1959 and 1964 some black families sent their children to schools outside of county lines or even outside of the state to live with relatives, but most were forced to go five years without any kind of formal education.  The tuition grants were specifically designed to sustain the idea of segregation in Prince Edward County and the entire state of Virginia where public money was being used to help only a handful of students.

Today, vouchers still do not help most students achieve a quality education.  There are 49 million public school students but there are not 49 million vouchers to be offered. While current voucher programs do not segregate students by race in such an obvious way as those of the past, many still see segregation as an unintended consequence.  Public schools have legislation attached to them to address racially isolated schools but vouchers do not have the same civil rights legislation attached to their policies.  The research on vouchers today suggest that, in general, more vouchers are associated with more segregation in national and international studies.

The consequence of increased segregation from vouchers directly opposes the current beliefs about school diversity.  In the recent PDK poll on the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, 70% of the parents surveyed would prefer sending their children to a racially diverse school.  The data shows that the majority of public opinion has drastically changed regarding integration in schools, so it is time for our policies to reflect this transformation by learning from episodes like the one in Prince Edward County and moving forward.







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