The Nevada legislature has passed a school voucher plan (see Greg Mankiw's blog). The plan provides a voucher worth between $500 and $3,000 to every school-age child in the state.
I have no doubt this plan will help many families. But I have serious reservations about this approach because the plan does not eliminate public schools. In my view this means many benefits of vouchers have been missed, namely, disenfranching the teachers' union and reducing other bureaucracy and inefficiency.
One standard argument for maintaining public schools asserts that the private sector cannot create enough private schools, at least not quickly. I disagree. My guess is that a sufficient quantity and quality of private schools would arise in months, if a state eliminated public schools and offered universal vouchers of, say, $5,000 per child.
My hunch here relies in part on a broad view of what might constitute a school under universal vouchers. Good schools do not require orchestras, football teams, and fitness centers; or drama, photography, and drivers ed; or innumerable guidance counselors, vice principals, and learning "specialists." Some of these things are nice to have, but a quality education can proceed with far less.
No doubt, under universal vouchers, elite schools would exist charging tens of thousands in tuition and providing many amenities. But a good education can occur in a basement with one teacher and a reasonable number of willing students.