Saturday, October 4, 2008

School Vouchers: Implementation

School vouchers have failed on a national level thus far because:
- Many have not been convinced that the concept is “based on a sound theory relating changes in target group behavior to the achievement of the desired end-state,” (Sabatier, 382)
- The policy has always lacked “unambiguous policy directives,” (382)
- The concept is not sufficiently “supported by organized constituency groups,” (382)

Vouchers are clearly a redistributive policy as it benefits “sectors of society who get more from government than they put in,” (Gerston, 103). Thus if the policy is to reemerge on a national level, it will need to be very specific with its intentions (Gerston, 104) and holding minimal ‘bureaucratic discretion’ (Gerston, 109). Clear statutory objectives are necessary not just “because of partisan importance,” but also to avoid a very clear danger with school vouchers.

School vouchers are often opposed because they are thought to deprive funds and students from struggling schools. Why should only some students be able to escape a failing public school—shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the government to fix the school and not provide a couple life-rafts? In order to move forward the goals of its implementation need to “ensure that they have the effects that designers of these policies seek,” (Birkland, 181). That is to say that the school vouchers offer relief to struggling schools, not a cold shoulder. This will not be an easy thing to communicate. “Perhaps the most problematic feature of top-down models is the emphasis on clear objective or goals,” (Birkland, 183).

The difficulty mounts, because not only does the policy need to be specific, but it must also be simple in order to be successful, (Gerston 108). One way to successfully implement school vouchers is to set up a strong, national fund accessible to struggling schools with the boilerplate condition (Gerston, 107) that the school allows parents to switch to any other nearby school. This way, schools will not lose much-needed financial support in participating with the voucher program.

Though funding and oversight will come from a national level, the implementation of the program should be handled locally. This way less control needs to be taken away from local school districts that “are often loath to surrender their power and prerogatives to distant agencies headquartered in Washington,” (Birkland, 184).

No matter the efforts made to clarify the intention and implementation, there will be significant resistance. “Most positions within any governmental agency are occupied by career civil servants who are often resistant to changes in existing procedures and programs and only moderately susceptible to the sanctions and inducements available to political appointees,” (Sabatier, 385). One way to ease this resistance is to make participation in the program optional as “the greater the mandated change, the more opposed the target groups,” (Sabatier, 383).

Whether the program is successful or not, it is not likely to survive long-term. On principle alone, school vouchers are a stop-gap measure to provide temporary relief to students in a troubled school. If it works than the need will dissipate. If the program does not result in improvement within student performance in the area, then faith in the program will diminish. “It is absolutely crucial to maintain active political support for the achievement of statutory objectives over the long course of implementation,” (Sabatier, 387). And without such support, the funding will certainly be redirected to a cause perceived as more urgent.

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