Vouchers put educational choices for children in the hands of the people who care most: the parents. The voucher program was developed in the 1980s to give low-income families more choice in where their kids go to school. Rich people already have this choice.

Why should this choice be denied to low-income kids who especially need a school environment that will help them acquire the skills needed to compete in a world where jobs are increasingly based on cognitive skills?

Vouchers give less affluent families the option of having money that would ordinarily be spent educating their children in public schools applied toward tuition in a private or parochial school. Vouchers have the potential to make struggling public schools perform better because they will need to become competitive if they are to attract the “business” of parents who suddenly are empowered to weigh the merits of various schools.

Instead of welcoming competition, which can give failing public schools incentive to improve, the National Education Association, the public school teachers union, cried bloody murder. The NEA claims that vouchers will harm public schools by denying them funds. This puts the interests of unionized teachers above those of children. They argue that it is wrong to allow parents to spend education money as they, and not the unions, see fit.

But public money earmarked for the education of children is earmarked for — well — the education of children and not for specific schools. Moreover, families are unlikely to use vouchers to remove their children from thriving, safe public schools where children learn and develop social skills. But, if you believe the NEA, voucher-using students do not profit from the experience — an odd assertion, which says, in effect, that it doesn’t matter where poor kids go to school.

A crime-ridden public school with metal detectors at the doors versus a quiet parochial school with nuns? Hey, if you’re poor, it doesn’t matter.

The NEA tries to make us believe that vouchers don’t give some kids, who would otherwise be in failing pubic schools, a better chance. A new study of the voucher program in Indiana, however, indicates otherwise.

Researchers Mark Berends and R. Joseph Waddington studied a voucher program that involved more than 34,000 children. They found that the children’s scores in math and English declined in the first two years of using vouchers and then, if the kids remained in the parochial or private school, their scores picked up and they did better than their public school peers.

Anyone who has ever moved from a public to a private school, as I did in the ninth grade, knows the phenomenon: you have to struggle in a newer, more demanding school, but ultimately, it pays off.

And, of course, parents don’t pick non-public schools only for academic standards. They are also influenced by safety concerns and cultural values. Shouldn’t low-income parents be empowered to make the same value judgments regarding a child’s environment that families in posher ZIP codes routinely make?

Public schools would do better to regard vouchers as representing a challenge to improve rather than fighting to hold kids captive. Opposing vouchers is opposing the primacy of parents in making decisions about their children’s education and the notion that low-income parents should be empowered to make those decisions every bit as much as rich parents.

It is a shame that the teachers union is engaged in a vitriolic fight against low-income parents who see opportunities for their children in voucher-funded attendance at schools of their choice. Make no mistake: the fight against school vouchers pits a powerful educational establishment against low-income parents.

Why should school choice be the prerogative only of the rich?