There is a little intra-blog disagreement at Free Exchange over school vouchers. One author thinks vouchers are unlikely to improve school quality, and a second author disagrees. The first author argues that school vouchers are unlikely to increase school quality for poor children because the thing that creates good schools is parents who actively work for better schools, and if the parents of poor children actively worked for better schools, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.
While I think it is clearly true that good schools come largely from parental activism, the second part of this logic ignores two very important features of vouchers. First, vouchers drastically reduce the cost to parents of actively working for better schools. With vouchers, parents who want to improve their child’s schooling do not have to invest time to complain to principals and school boards, they can simply change schools. The second is that vouchers turn parental activism for improved schooling from a public good into a private good; a family that actively agitates for better schooling in a public school system primarily benefits the community while a family in a private school system that moves their children to a better school reaps most of the rewards of doing so. When we turn a public good into a private good, we should expect more optimal levels of the good to be provided.
That said, changing the public school system from a government managed system to a voucher system would seems monumentally difficult to me, so caution and moderation are probably in order.
I also found this quote from the second author post fascinating
Both African Americans and Hispanics are markedly more likely to support vouchers than are whites. Indeed, 68 percent of African Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, compared to 38 percent of whites. Only 15 percent of African Americans and 23 percent of Hispanics oppose vouchers, compared to 40 percent of whites.