A school voucher, also called an education voucher, is a certificate issued by the government by which parents can pay for the education of their children at a school of their choice, rather than the public school to which they are assigned. Under non-voucher education systems citizens who currently pay for private schooling are still taxed for public schools. Vouchers are intended to allow citizens to offset this extra cost, without a direct tax credit or deduction. Controversy surrounds whether this may directly undermine the public education system in areas where parents have the option of both public and private schools, and increase burden on taxpayers that now have to pay subsidies for private institutions.
The oldest continuing school voucher programs existing today in the United States are the Town Tutoring programs in Vermont and Maine, beginning in 1869 and 1873 respectively. Because some towns in these states operate neither local high schools nor elementary schools, students in these towns "are eligible for a voucher to attend [either] public schools in other towns or non-religious private schools. In these cases, the 'sending' towns pay tuition directly to the 'receiving' schools." In some Southern states during the 1960s, school vouchers were used as a method of perpetuating segregation. In a few instances, public schools were closed outright and vouchers were issued to parents. The vouchers, in many cases, were only good at privately segregated schools, known as segregation academies. Today, all modern voucher programs prohibit racial discrimination.
Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman argued for the modern concept of vouchers in the 1950s, stating that competition would improve schools and cost efficiency. The view further gained popularity with the 1980 TV broadcast of Friedman's series "Free to Choose" for which volume 6 was devoted entirely for promoting "educational freedom" through...