Matthew Yglesias isn’t sold on school vouchers:
[W]hat, exactly, it is that conservatives think vouchers are going to do. After all, it’s not as if there are millions of private school slots sitting empty right now just waiting for people to pony up the tuition money. If you made vouchers available to public school students who couldn’t otherwise afford private schools, some pretty small number of them would displace richer occupants from a few existing private school slots, but for the overwhelming majority of public school students, there would be no change at all. Plus, the displaced private school students would either wind up in public school or else displacing a candidate from a less selective private school who, in turn, would wind up in public school or else [future iterations here].
Either way, the total number of public school students wouldn’t change very much, and public schools wouldn’t get any better as a result of the process. Indeed, they’d probably get a little worse since you’d be dragging average student quality down. There may be good reasons for wanting to adopt a plan like this (there’s a sense it which it would be fairer, at least to the smartest of poor kids), but I have a really hard time seeing how this could be a solution — or even a major part of a solution — to America’s education problem.
There are clearly many variants on the proposal. But most would posit that, 1) the market would create more private schools were there more dollars chasing seats and 2) many of the plans would allow parents to chose from among public schools, allowing them to send kids to the richer side of town to go to the better schools. Theoretically, both of these things would lead to increased competition since the lesser public schools would soon have fewer butts stuck in those seats and hence fewer dollars coming in to continue the employment of incompetent teachers and administrators.
Are there practical problems with this? Sure. For one thing, a lot of parents with kids in lousy schools are pretty lousy parents and frankly don’t care. Some of those who do care can’t afford to transport them across town to a better school. And there are presumably information barriers as to which schools are really “better.”
But, given that nothing else seems to work at fixing lousy inter city and rurual schools, I suppose this is worth a shot.