School vouchers and the privileges of choice

published 11 July 2017 updated 5 January 2022
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Since the 1980s, the debate on school vouchers has been prominent along with the more general efforts to institute market forces, school choice, and privatisation in education sectors in many countries.

Across the globe, school vouchers come in many forms, but essentially, a school voucher constitutes a certificate of public funding of a specific amount that parents of students are being offered to use in any school - usually private - of the parents’ choosing that accepts such vouchers (Carnoy, 2017, p.2). In this way, vouchers usually allow parents to use public funds to secure their children’s education at public schools as well as private schools (Ladd, 2002).

School vouchers form a key element in promoting privatisation and instituting ‘quasimarkets’ in education (Ball and Youdell, 2008, p.18). They hence serve as levers to undermine public provision of education - in more or less dramatic fashion and over shorter or longer time. In this way, school vouchers contribute to deepen school segregation and entrench existing inequalities in schools and societies.