Cato Policy Analysis No. 269 March 12, 1997

Policy Analysis

Vouchers and Educational Freedom: A Debate

by Joseph L. Bast and David Harmer versus Douglas Dewey

Joseph L. Bast is president of the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Palatine, Illinois. He is the coauthor of two books on school reform, We Can Rescue Our Children (1988) and Rebuilding America's Schools (1991). David Harmer is the author of School Choice (Cato Institute, 1994), a former research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and one of the architects of California's 1993 educational choice initiative effort. He resides in Utah. Douglas Dewey is president of the National Scholarship Center in Washington.


Executive Summary

Advocates of educational freedom disagree about whether school vouchers would liberate schools and families and lead to greater freedom of choice or trap private schools in a web of subsidy and regulation that would destroy their independence and quality. The two sides square off in this study.

Bast and Harmer argue that voucher plans would eventually lead to the complete separation of school and state, which would liberate education from bureaucrats and politicians. They argue that vouchers would not subject private schools to excessive regulation and that no greater reform is politically feasible. Finally, they charge, libertarian opponents of vouchers ignore the plight of children in inner-city schools.

Dewey counters that vouchers would not substantially reduce the state's role in education. Indeed, vouchers would create a vast system of government contractors and parents with "school stamps," a massive lobby for ever-increasing subsidies. He warns that government money always comes with strings attached.

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1997 The Cato Institute
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