Can 'School Vouchers' Make Public Schools Less Safe and Undermine Their Academic Climates?

Julia R. Schwendinger, University of South Florida
Herman Schwendinger, University of South Florida

Despite claims that vouchers would provide superior educational opportunities for poor children, especially racial minorities, we explore how vouchers could undermine school safety and academic climates of public high schools. Utilizing our 'instrunental theory of delinquency' and empirical data, we show how subcultures affect these two factors. After comparing subcultural compositions of private schools with compositions of public schools, we predict the massive employment of school vouchers would produce a 'two-way street' composed (1) of students who move from public schools into private schools and (2) students who move from private schools to public schools because they are 'counseled out' or expelled. Since the magnitudes of corner cultures mediate the undesirable effects on school safety and academic achievement, we propose that voucher programs could aggravate problems faced by public schools by contributing to the absolute or relative magnitude of corner cultures. Although proponents of 'school vouchers' have argued privatization of public schools for more than a decade, the 2000 presidential election has made their proposals a national issue. Criminologists have not lent their expertise to the voucher debate. Perhaps it's time they should.

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Updated 05/20/2006