The Swedish school voucher system

Voucher advocates in the US often invoke the plight of inner-city children stuck in terrible schools. However US-style voucher schemes don’t really help poor children that much since they cover only a part of the expense of private school and many poor parents aren’t able to afford the difference.

Sweden introduced a voucher system in the early 90’s which solved this problem because the voucher pays for the full cost of education and schools can’t demand any fees beyond the voucher. In addition the schools have to meet basic educational standards and have to admit everyone regardless of ability. This piece(pdf file) discusses the main points of the system which apparently receives broad support across the Swedish political spectrum.The main advantage of the system is that it gives poor parents a real choice when it comes to their child’s school. So should this system be adopted in the US and other countries?

Sounds totalitarian. It solves the need of some people only by denying the freedom of others. Why should parents that can afford to and want to be denied the choice of enrolling their children in schools, which promise a better or merely different education standard founded by a higher tuition fee? School vouchers should cover the cost of an acceptable level of education. If some parents want to pay more, this is not a right that should be taken away from them. In the 70s we had a minister of education in Denmark whose motto was: “What not everybody can learn, nobody should learn.” Fortunately we have moved beyond that sort of dogmatic mind-set. Perhaps it’s time Sweden did too.

Well then you would get the kind of voucher system which you have in some parts of the US where the voucher would only cover part of the fee and is in effect useless for many poor parents.

The Swedish proposal is a compromise which allows for greater choice in that you get public funding for private schools and yet in the interests of providing poor students with better options puts limits on the market. Which is why it’s interesting to see what kind of support it gets on the political spectrum.

I don’t know how it works in Sweden but you could also have private schools which can’t accept vouchers but can charge any fees they wish for parents who want to pay for more expensive education. These kind of schools obviously already exist in the US and UK and I would imagine most countries around the world.

There are two big differences between Sweden and the US, as far as vouchers are concerned. First, Sweden’s constitution has no prohibition against the government subsidizing churches. (The article says there were some private schools before vouchers. The Estonian and Jewish schools were government-supported.)

The other part is that most US private schools are church schools. Our constitution, and our Supreme Court’s interpretation of it, prohibits church services in government schools. You can have government voucher money and no mandatory prayers, or you can teach religion and get no government voucher money. If you can afford to pay your own tuition, you are free to choose a religious school for your kids.

The cash crunch in some dioceses has forced some schools to be transformed from Catholic schools to non-religious charter schools. If that becomes a big trend, vouchers could more easily be done here legally, without breaking the law.

I’ll need a cite before I can believe this. I find it quite unlikely.

Obviously, vouchers are may not pay for the very best possible education at Preppie Prep, but generally they cover or come close to covering the cost of your the typical private school – especially since most religious schools are very willing to bend the rules and give aid to help poorer kids get in.

When the administration killed the D.C. program, I read a feature of a single inner-city mom whose kids had been using the voucher program to attend Sidwell Freinds (school of choice of the political elite). Given how wildly expensive D.C. schools, are, I suppose that’s not surprising.

I believe the US Supreme Court has in fact in ruled that vouchers for religious schools are constitutional and such schools already receive voucher money in Milwaukee. Even if that were not the case a major voucher scheme would likely see the rise of profit-seeking private schools which are funded by vouchers; this has apparently happened in Sweden.

Huh? It’s “totalitarian” that everyone can chose which school to go to, as opposed to rich kids being able to go to good schools and poor kids being stuck in crappy schools? That’s a new definition to me…

Yes the “right” of a small rich clique to put their kids in exclusive private schools have been infringed upon, since now everyone can put their kids in those schools, and there’s a limit to how much the schools can charge for their service. The end result is that everyone actually has the freedom to chose. Now that freedom isn’t limited to those kids who were smart enough to get born by wealthy parents.

Now if you want to give your kids a head start on the others, you’re actually going to have to (gasp) spend time with them, help them or motivate them. I guess if you’re rich you can hire someone to do that for you too…

Anyway, the schools aren’t complaining, and AFAIK the parents aren’t complaining about the system either. Of course that may be due to the totalitarian brainwashing, maybe they just don’t see the benefits of a segregated system.

Can’t find a cite right now but this is a criticism I have heard often. Basically the argument goes that because the voucher covers only a portion of the fee poor parents don’t have much choice beyond maybe Catholic schools which charge lower fees and as you mentioned may give aid. By contrast the Swedish system means profit-seeking schools will compete for the voucher money of everyone including poor parents without the latter needing to pay extra.

And about .7% of the pupils age 7-16 were enrolled in confessional schools last time I checked (which was a few years ago), but there are suggestions about not allowing confessional schools to be part of the system.

Don’t you understand what I wrote or are you just playing dumb to prove some obscure point. Yes it is totalitarian to force “rich” parents to send their children to other schools than they would have preferred, so that some other children may benefit in some other way. If you want to more children to attend a particular school, then it should be done by making the school more attractive so the parents want to send their children there, rather than limiting their choice so they can do nothing else. If there is a problem with public schools in general not being of an acceptable quality then it should be dealt with by increasing voucher size or state subsidy. In fact it is a bit murky how decreasing school funding by setting a cap on how much they are allowed to charge in any way can help to make it a better school. In Denmark, in many ways comparable to Sweden, we have both free public schools and vouchers for private schools. There are no elite schools and around 70% of all pupils attend public schools.

If nobody are complaining they probably are either scared or brainwashed or more likely you haven’t being listening, since no society anywhere should all the citizens agree completely on anything.

Who’s playing dumb… rich people aren’t “forced” to send or not send their kids anywhere. Anyone can go to any school. That’s the point. But hey, maybe keeping poor kids OUT of the rich kids schools is freedom, and this whole thing where anyone can chose what they want is really totalitarian opression! We’re all being brainwashed!

Are you writing this with the understanding that it is perfectly acceptable under the system for a private school to refuse to accept vouchers and charge whatever they like? If you are, then I’m not sure what your complaint is, since you can start a school that charges what it likes and accepts who it likes, and you are free to send your kids to such a school (assuming you can afford it).

If you are not, then you are complaining about an imaginary system that you just made up, since the Swedish proposal in the OP appears to be a case of the former, not the latter.

And my children are free to do everything they want, just as long as they do exactly as I tell them. The whole point of Lantern’s “solution” is that certain schools (those that are based on a higher funding from the parents) are made illegal, forcing the parents to seek out other kinds of schools.

Everybody cannot chose. A guy wanting to invest more than the allowed voucher sum in his children’s education, has that choice removed. The point is that having poor children in “rich kids schools” and equality isn’t a goal in itself. The goal is providing better education for all. This should be done by improving schools for poor children, not by lowering the standards for rich children. If the problem is lack of funds, then the voucher size or public funding should be increased.

But mostly you are trying to fit a Swedish model in an American setting, which it doesn’t do well. Sweden is one of the most economically equal countries of the world, they hardly have any of the issues you have when you think of rich and poor. And if Sweden is anything like Denmark, then the majority of parents sending children to private schools are not rich parents looking for elite education, but 1) middle class parents looking for alternative education methods, like “Steiner” and such, 2) middle class parents fleeing dysfunctional public schools in dysfunctional neighbourhoods, 3) Middle class parents turning a local public school into a local private school when the municipal administration decide it best to close it for economic reasons. And in the larger cities, rich children are already pretty much segregated regardless since school districts will make sure they are not mixed with children from poorer districts.

If you say so.

I am specifically replying to “Sweden introduced a voucher system in the early 90’s which solved this problem because the voucher pays for the full cost of education and schools can’t demand any fees beyond the voucher. Ie. Schools are not free to set whatever price they want. I don’t know if it is a true representation of the Swedish system. Maybe there is an opt out that if school completely forego any vouchers it can set a price as high as it wants. That will undermine Lantern’s “solution” and not be very fair to anyone.

I have heard it, too, but I have never seen anything but anecdotal evidence for it … and my own experiences tell me very much otherwise.

As to there being no options besides Catholic schools, that’s the point. If you create a voucher system, you make for-profit schools possible and indeed likely. I highly doubt Sweden had a whole slew of nonreligious private schools around before the voucher system was in place.

I believe that is exactly what is being said, at least that is my interpretation of the linked document: schools can choose to not accept vouchers at all, meaning they are completely private and can charge whatever they like. In fact, it isn’t clear from the document whether the pricing restriction is limited to student’s using the voucher, or all students at that school, if the school accepts vouchers.

ok, now I’m confused. How is this different than the proposed American style voucher system? Will our voucher system cover the entire cost of education at any school? Does Swedens?

This is incorrect. The Constitution says nothing about government subsidies or prayer in schools. Even if the First Amendment did say such things, it applies only to Congress and not to local school districts. Vouchers programs and tax credits for private school tuition have stood up repeatedly to long streams of frivolous lawsuits from the ACLU and like-minded organizations. And when voucher programs have been knocked down by the courts, it’s been on the basis of state laws, not the U. S. Constitution.

As for the Swedish system, it sounds great to me. Anything that gets kids out of crumbling public schools and into private and charter schools is a good thing. Millions of American children are receiving a worthless education or no education at all, and as a result going on to crap jobs or no job at all. The root cause of this is the greed of the teachers unions and the government’s desire to have a monopoly on education. We need to rescue these kids, period. I’m less concerned about the details than about doing something.

Here is some more from the Economist (subscription required):

The key is that the voucher pays for the full cost of education. This makes it possible for every poor parent to afford private education and as the quote indicates the private sector has expanded to tap this opportunity. In the US the existing voucher schemes are useful for well-off parents who can afford the extra fees but not so much for poor parents. Either they will have to make great sacrifices and scrape up the extra money. Or their only real option will be Catholic schools which are anyway facing rising costs and are closing down in many places.

Yes…there’d prolly be a bunch of Elementary and Secondary Schools of Phonix sprouting up.
And yes…people assume that vouchers would let kids attend elite High achiever schools…but the fact of the matter is that most “private” schools are religious…there’s very few non- “feeder school” for Andover or the Ivy League private schools out there…and most of THOSE can afford to give poor kids scholarships. (since they are hedge funds with a school attached)

What I meant was that schools which accept vouchers aren’t allowed to ask for additional fees. I would imagine that there are completely private schools which are allowed to charge fees as they wish but can’t accept vouchers. Yes, that would allow some inequality but the point is that the Swedish voucher system greatly increases the access of poor parents to private schools without requiring additional fees. This is not the case in US voucher schemes.