Republicans Prefer To Back Vouchers By Any Other Name

Refrain from calling it "vouchers"; instead, use terms like "scholarships," "parental options," "school choice," or "student opportunities." This seems to be the prevailing belief among Republicans nowadays when discussing a policy that allows public funds to be used for private and religious schools’ tuition fees. President Bush recently presented such a proposal, but interestingly, he avoided using the word "vouchers." At a White House ceremony, the president emphasized the need to provide better options for parents and students who currently have limited choices. While there are differing opinions on what these options should be, President Bush intends to present his own views to Congress for debate.

Members of President Bush’s staff are also deliberate in their avoidance of the term "vouchers." White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, during an appearance on CNN’s "Late Edition," stressed the importance of commitment to a child’s education rather than focusing on vouchers. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, during a press briefing, clarified that the president’s proposal is not a traditional statewide voucher plan as it would only provide aid to a limited number of students. Senior adviser Karl Rove even expressed his discontent with the misuse of the term "vouchers," as he believes that the president’s proposal simply ensures that funding follows the child after three years if the inner city schools fail to deliver.

However, it is worth noting that what Rove described bears a striking resemblance to economist Milton Friedman’s definition of vouchers. Friedman, who coined the term in the 1950s, sees President Bush’s proposal as aligned with his fundamental idea of vouchers. According to Laura J. Swartley of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the name "voucher" has received negative associations but as long as the proposal benefits children and can be implemented, labels are not a concern.

So why has "vouchers" been banned, even by a Republican administration? Some voucher proponents believe that rebranding may be necessary to reclaim an idea that they feel has been unfairly linked to being "anti-public education" by their opponents. The efforts led by national teachers’ unions have successfully defeated numerous voucher plans through public votes. This includes recent initiatives in California and Michigan, which were struck down. Despite the opposition from congressional Democrats to President Bush’s voucher proposal, they still commended other aspects of his K-12 education plan.

Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association, expressed skepticism towards the new approach of the Bush administration. Former President George Bush referred to his voucher plan as a "GI Bill for Children," but Chase believed that this name change would not succeed with Congress and the public. He argued that a voucher is simply a voucher and has a negative connotation due to its consistent defeat in public voting. Chase acknowledged the process being used but doubted its efficacy, as there is significant opposition to vouchers in both the House and Senate.

On the other hand, a prominent supporter of vouchers, Kaleem Caire, the executive director of the Black Alliance for Education Options, believed that dropping the term could help change public opinion on the matter. He saw it as a wise approach and suggested that the teachers’ unions have been spreading misinformation. Caire emphasized that the goal is to provide children with opportunities rather than bankrupting education or punishing teachers.

The voucher debate has been reframed by the Bush administration as one of parental choice, and recent polling data suggest that this strategy may be well-received by the public. In an analysis conducted by the Gallup Organization, it was concluded that public support for vouchers was up for grabs. The level of support varied depending on how a voucher was defined in opinion surveys. When described as a choice or option for parents and children, as a partial payment for private school education, or as a policy allowing attendance at religious schools, support for the idea increased significantly compared to simply describing it as a private school voucher.

Frank M. Newport, the editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, suggested that both the Bush administration and Ted Kennedy should take advantage of this opportunity to define vouchers and shape public opinion. As of now, public opinion is open and whoever presents the strongest argument could sway the public’s perspective.


  • adamlewis

    Adam Lewis is a 34-year-old school teacher and blogger who focuses on education. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida. Lewis has been teaching since 2004 and has taught in both public and private schools. He is currently a teacher at a private Christian school in Florida.