Some crucial facts are missing from the voucher debate ["Bush Proposes Giving School Funds to Parents," front page, Sept. 3; "Judge Reverses School Voucher Ruling," news story, Aug. 28]. Most concern the evidence gleaned so far from the voucher experiments in Cleveland and Milwaukee.
First, despite all the talk about responding to parents' concerns, voucher programs are not required by law to meet basic standards of public accountability. Thus, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on July 1 that in a Cleveland voucher school "children attended classes in a 110-year-old building with no fire alarm, no sprinkler system, broken windows and potentially brain-damaging lead paint flaking from the walls. . . . [and the school was] staffed mostly by unlicensed teachers, including a convicted murderer."
Second, private schools do not have to serve the needs of children with special needs, a fact that is often overlooked in comparing cost figures for public and private schools. If such children are refused admission to the private school of their "choice" in a voucher program, they will be left behind in a public school whose resources have been depleted by the same voucher program.
Third, church-state problems in voucher programs are often presented as theoretical, when the record so far already has produced troubling abuses. For example, in Milwaukee, many participating religious school programs ignored the requirements for random selection of students -- requirements that were meant to eliminate discrimination based on religious affiliation.
Fourth, the argument that public schools will improve based on the increased "competition" from voucher programs has no empirical support. State studies of existing programs show mixed results at best.
Finally, a large proportion of voucher funds go toward subsidizing students who already can afford to go to private school: In Milwaukee, one-third of voucher students attended private schools the year before receiving a voucher; in Cleveland the proportion was one-quarter.