Voucher scheme could go

29th October 2004 at 01:00
As the United States presidential race reaches its climax, Stephen Phillips reports on implications for education policy

Shirrel Simmons wanted the best schooling for her daughter. She shopped around Washington DC's public education system, sampling several. But teachers were complacent and did not have high expectations, she complains.

Kennedy, eight, was beaten up at one school and hospitalised.

So when US lawmakers approved a Bush initiative to offer low-income Washington families public grants to send their children to private schools, Ms Simmons applied. The five-year $14 million (pound;7.5m) voucher pilot complements schemes in Ohio and Florida but represents the first government-sponsored effort, a test case from which the White House hopes to rally support for a national rollout.

Ms Simmons qualified for the means-tested scheme and Kennedy was accepted at Rock Creek international school in Washington's upscale embassy district. There is a teacher for every seven pupils and lessons are taught in Arabic, French, Spanish and English.

Last month Kennedy and 28 other voucher-recipients mingled with their new classmates at a reception at the Venezuelan embassy, courtesy of the ambassador, whose son attends Rock Creek. A shuttle bus ferries Kennedy the 20-mile daily round-trip to and from school.

"I can't remember when Kennedy last came home from school happy before Rock Creek. Now she's excited about learning," says Ms Simmons.

But despite glowing testimonies, vouchers are deeply contentious. This is Bush's pet project, and John Kerry has vowed to veto any voucher bill if elected president.

Critics complain that vouchers siphon money from public education into the private sector and that many participating schools are religious, breaching separation of church and state. Roughly 70 per cent of participating Washington schools are parochial.

Charter schools already offer educational choice, while vouchers favour proactive parents and students at the expense of those who need help most, opponents add. But for Ms Simmons vouchers offered a lifeline. "I wanted to give my child the best education," she says.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now