Publicly funded elementary and secondary education has played an important role
throughout much of United States history in ensuring that the U.S. population is among the most
educated in the world. (See Goldin (1999) for a brief history of education in the United States.)
At the same time, privately funded elementary and secondary schools have steadily coexisted,
largely giving parents the opportunity to provide their children with a religious education in a
country believing in the importance of the separation of church and State. In 1900, 8 percent of
students enrolled in grades kindergarten to grade 12 were enrolled in private schools while today
roughly 11 percent of children are enrolled in private school. The percent enrolled in private
school has remained relatively constant over the 1990s; however, private school enrollment rates
have been higher in the intervening years, reaching nearly 14 percent in the late 1950s and early
1960s and reaching nearly 13 percent in the 1980s (Digest of Education Statistics, 2000).
Adoption of current public school reform proposals, particularly the idea of providing parents
with education vouchers, is likely to lead to an increase in private school enrollment or at least an
increase in enrollment at schools traditionally defined as private with a blurring of the distinction
between public and private schools due to the public source of the voucher financing.