At the end of the 1960s, the U.S. government began to experiment with education vouchers, and, in November 2000, while on a study tour to the U.S., a group from Changxing County discovered the concept. On May 10, 2001, the Education Bureau of Changxing Country announced the beginning of the implementation of the first education voucher system in China, thus adapting the system developed by U.S. economist Milton Friedman.
Changxing Country issued four different kinds of education vouchers: Civilian-run School Vouchers (worth 500 yuan (U.S. $65)), Vocational Education Vouchers (300 yuan (U.S. $39)), Poor Student’s Vouchers (200-300 yuan (U.S. $25-$39)), and Education Vouchers for Rural Skills Training. Changxing has issued 72 Civilian-run School Vouchers, 8,743 Poor Student Vouchers, 15,818 Vocational Education Vouchers, 787 Education Vouchers for civilian-run senior high schools, 624 Education Vouchers for ordinary high schools, and 11,150 Education Vouchers for Rural Skills Training.
To ensure that the funds the government spends on education do indeed go to schooling, education vouchers are only used for incidentals and book fees, and are cashed by the schools themselves. The main innovation of this voucher system is that it has made resource distribution more precise. Now that funds for education are very scarce, the government’s policy has been to channel its limited funds to disadvantaged groups of both students and facilities (i.e. vocational and civilian-run schools) that need the utmost support in Changxing County. This system provides efficient utilization of public financing, guaranteeing a proportional allocation of funds to government schools.
Since the implementation of this system, there have been no incidents of poor students having to drop out of school because of financial difficulty in Changxing county. Student attendance rates at primary school have reached 100%, in junior middle school, 99.8%, and in schools for the disabled, 98.5%. Vocational education has also seen a healthy and steady development. In 2000, the vocational high school of Changxing County enrolled 1403 students, which rose to 2002 students in 2001 after the education voucher system’s implementation. The ratio of students in ordinary schools to that of students in vocational schools is currently 1:1.08. The voucher for rural skills training has assisted 9,112 rural surplus laborers to grasp new skills, accelerating the pace of labor mobility from rural to urban areas.
The education voucher system has been an extremely influential model to other counties in Zhejiang Province. At present, over 40 counties, districts, and cities are pursuing implementation, and the Department of Education of Zhejiang Province has also begun promoting this system. The initiation of the education voucher system in Changxing County solves the problem of imbalanced distribution of educational resources, promoting the development of non-governmental and vocational education throughout Changxing County.