Vouching for Vouchers

School choice in Sweden

A new study by two Swedish economists examines whether the Swedish voucher program has hurt education in public schools.

Yes, that's right: Sweden, that vaunted social democratic paradise, operates the world's most robust and wide-ranging voucher program. Since 1992 the Swedish government has offered parents up to 75 percent of the per-student cost of their local public school. The money can go to any private school -- nonprofit, for-profit, or religious -- as long as the national education bureaucracy approves it. The approval requirement is mostly to ensure that private schools are open to all kids and don't charge tuition above the voucher. Parents can also choose among many public schools for their kids, unlike in the U.S., where kids generally have to attend their district school.

So has the Swedish voucher program skimmed the cream, leaving public schools with the dregs, as many U.S. voucher critics predict?

"The present study shows this fear to be without foundation," conclude its authors, F. Mikael Sandstrom and Fredrik Bergstrom of the Stockholm- based Research Institute of Industrial Economics. "We find that the extent of competition from independent schools, measured as the proportion of students in the municipality that goes to independent schools, improves both the test results and the grades in public schools....The improvement is significant both in statistical and real terms."

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