Should Obama Look to Sweden for a Successful School Voucher Program?

 By Donna Gundle-Krieg March 19, 2009

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President Obama wants to reform the public school system, but lots of well meaning people have been trying to do that for a long time.

Many believe that educational reform has to involve creating competition for public schools. It is encouraging that Obama is open to charter schools, vouchers and other options for parents.

Vouchers are dollars that follow children to any school they choose, rather than going directly to states and school districts.

For example, the state gives New York City Public School District $13,000 per student. Under a voucher program, the parents could choose which school their child would attend, and the $13,000 would go to that public or private school rather than to the New York City School District.  

This would solve the dilemma that most American parents face, which is that they are often forced to choose public schools due to financial considerations. Basically, the public schools have no real competition. 

Sweden does have school choice and competition, and the program is supported by the left, center, and right, according to an editorial video by the New York Times. 

“We implemented competition in education,” said Peter Fyles, CEO Internationelle Engelska Skolan. “Anybody can use their voucher to attend any school.” 

“Education is so important that you can’t just leave it to one producer,” said Per Unckel, Governor of Stockholm and former Minister of Education. 

“We know from monopoly systems that they do not fulfill all wishes.”

 He added that kids should “never ever have to stay in a school that’s lousy. The right of the kid is to get a good education. If the public sector can not offer it, he or she should have the right to go somewhere else.”

 The range of public and private schools available in Sweden suits many different learning styles and interests.

 For example, some schools attract highly academic students and have rigorous curricula and high expectations.

 "We are the highest achieving school in the region,” bragged Damian Brunker, Academic Coordinator for the private independent International English School.

 “Parents are grateful to have the opportunity to send their kids here,” said Kilgore Burgess, instructor and mentor at IES Eskilstuna.

In contrast to that highly structured school, the Via Emilia School in Stockholm has a more relaxed approach.


 “Knowledge has to come from within the child,” said Britt-Marie Mellberg, instructor at Via Emilia. She believes that children can not be forced to work. .  

 "I have friends that live in New York and they pay so much money to go to school,” said Swedish parent Charlotte Suarez Mazar. “I think it’s really crazy.”

Will vouchers ever thrive in the United States?

Lately, those in the educational community hold their breath each time another announcement is made.

So far, Obama seems to be willing to go against the teachers’ union and support vouchers.

Just last week, he declared that he will reverse congressional Democrats’ phase out of the DC Opportunity Scholarships Program. See Obama Supports Vouchers.

Thanks to native Swede Karin Piper for sending this video to me. She is the Colorado Co-Charter School Examiner and is a huge proponent of giving parents options due to her experience in Sweden’s educational system.

 “I am not anti-anyone's choice in education,” she said. I am pro-education for every kid and that means the gamut!

 For more information, see:

Video: Sweden’s Choice: Why the Obama Administration Should Look to Europe for a School Voucher Program that Works by Lance T. Izumi of the New York Times Editorial senior director of education studies at Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy

Obama’s Education Reforms Show he does Listen to Both Sides

Faces Behind the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program



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