The idea of school vouchers is often credited to Milton Friedman who in the 1950s envisaged vouchers being offered to all parents to create a simulated market in schooling, funded by government. In this way, competition would drive under-performing schools out of business because students would leave and they would lose their funding. Friedman still promotes vouchers though the Rose and Milton Friedman Foundation.
Businessmen have spent millions of dollars trying to get voucher programs accepted in state ballots over the last few decades. Vouchers are essentially a way for governments to subsidise public schools as they provide government money to enable students to pay private school fees.
George W. Bush used school choice as one of his presidential election themes. The Bush administration has strongly supported the idea of vouchers and appointed various voucher proponents to key positions in the Department of Education, including Nina Shokraii Rees, who has campaigned for vouchers in her former positions with various think tanks, and former deputy secretary, Eugene Hickok, who had been a fellow with the Heritage Foundation and co-founder of the Education Leaders Council.
The Bush administration has also been generous in funding pro-voucher groups. The Federal Department of Education gave pro-voucher/privatisation groups almost $78 million between 2001 and 2003. It allocated $50 million to a national experiment in vouchers in Washington DC, beginning in 2004, whilst cutting overall education spending.
George Bush proposed that vouchers be included when the NCLB legislation came up for reauthorisation in 2007 as an option for students attending failing schools. His attempts to include them in the original legislation had been defeated by Democrat opposition.
Although Democrats tend to be opposed to vouchers, Barack Obama stated, before he was elected president, that he would support them if research showed that they helped children. After becoming president he moved to terminate the Washington DC voucher program, once existing students had graduated.