School choice: FCPP on Swedish vouchers

FCPP is another school choice resource, with links to other studies:

In Brief:

  • Sweden created a competitive school market by introducing vouchers in 1992.
  • Subsequent rapid growth in independent schools has garnered wide public support, even from teachers’ unions.
  • Although ethnic and religious segregation has increased, class integration is declining as poor children find better schools.
  • The Swedish success confirms similar evidence from vouchered American states.

The principle that inspires them—that the best use of governments’ funding power is to direct resources, not to provide services directly—is also finding wider support in mature welfare states. The recent use of school vouchers in Sweden, where splitting the purchaser from the provider improved healthcare efficiency, offers another object lesson.

The Swedes started to use vouchers in elementary and middle schools in 1992, with the passage of national legislation called Freedom of Choice and Independent Schools, and expanded the program two years later to include high schools. Rapidly growing private, for-profit companies like Kunskapsskolan have introduced unique curricula to attract vouchered students.

In North America, vouchers are already in use in six of the United States and the District of Columbia, and many more are hearing increasingly vocal demands for such alternatives to assist children trapped in low-performing inner-city schools. The Province of Ontario installed a form of them in 2002 by expanding tax credits for children in private schools. A 2001 Compas poll reported that 57 percent of the Canadian public supports the use of vouchers.

Why, then, don’t we have them already? In spite of abundant evidence that provincial education systems cost more and deliver less than students, parents and their communities want, special interest groups like teachers’ unions stand in the way. In terms of influence, “educrats” will lose the most from the systemic decentralization of public schools. Competitive schools mean less concentrated bargaining power and more merit pay for teachers, long the bête noire of their powerful professional organizations.

What happened in Sweden may change some of their minds. The two largest teachers’ unions are converts to the voucher system, probably because their colleagues who work inside the burgeoning market for independent schools are generally more satisfied with working conditions than those who remain in public schools. In a poll conducted by Svenskt Näringsliv, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, students overwhelmingly confirmed they liked the new freedom of choice.

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