School Vouchers

I’ve written about charter schools-providing some background on their inception and why I feel they are bad for public education. What about school vouchers?

School vouchers allow parents to take the per-pupil spending amount allotted (which varies by state) and use the money for private or parochial schools. Private schools must meet minimum standards established by legislatures in order to accept voucher recipients. These standards don’t necessarily mirror the standards the public schools are held to, so it already seems an unfair comparison.

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In economist Milton Friedman’s 1955 paper, “The Role of Government in Education”, he launched modern efforts to use public dollars to pay private school tuition in hopes that competition among schools will lead to increased student achievement and decreased education costs. If you remember from a previous post on DeVos, she said more choice       = a better product. I wonder if they knew each other…

Proponents say:

  • When parents can choose where to send their child to school, they will choose the highest performing options.
  • Those schools performing poorly will be forced to either improve or risk losing students and the funding tied to those students.
  • While public school choice policies like charter schools serve a similar purpose, private schools have more flexibility in staffing, budgeting, curriculum, academic standards and accountability systems than even charter schools.
  • This flexibility fosters the best environment for market competition and cost efficiency (NCSL).

Opponents say:

  • Shifting a handful of students from a public school into private schools will not decrease what the public school must pay for teachers and facilities, but funding for those costs will decrease as students leave.
  • Some also see government incentives to attend private religious schools as violating the separation of church and state.
  • Others believe the positive effects of school competition on student achievement are overstated by proponents (NCSL).

Voucher recipients have performed at least as well as their public school counterparts, however there is evidence to suggest private schools accept a disproportionate number of students with special needs, and English Language Learners (ELL).

The new administration has supported an increase in charters and vouchers, with DeVos saying what parents really want is “more choice.” I would argue what parents want is better schools, and since the evidence to support the academic gains of charters is not dramatically more than their public school counterparts, and likely discriminatory in their admissions (as they don’t mirror the public schools in inner cities that have high numbers of special needs students and ELL). Taking money away from the public schools, and asking already strapped districts to do less with more, I don’t see how children win. I am not suggesting more money will solve the ills of urban schools, but I also don’t see how you can fairly and accurately compare public schools with private and charter schools as they are not held to the same standards as public schools. Can anyone tell me why for-profit charters are not being opened in middle/upper income neighborhoods? Betsy DeVos believes charters should not be regulated in the same way as public schools.

Look at Michigan to see what vouchers have done. In a public letter to Lamar Alexander, Diane Ravitch wrote:Since Michigan embraced the DeVos family’s ideas about choice, Michigan has steadily declined on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In 2003, Michigan ranked 28th among the states in fourth-grade reading; the latest results, in 2015, showed that Michigan had dropped to 41st.

In 2003, Michigan ranked 27th in fourth- grade math; by 2015, it had declined to 42nd among the states.

Michigan has hundreds of charter schools. About 80% of them are run by for-profit operators. The Detroit Free Press conducted a one-year review of the charter sector and concluded it was a $1 billion a year industry that operated without accountability or transparency and that did not produce better results than public schools. Last year, when the legislature tried to develop accountability standards for the charter industry, Ms. DeVos successfully lobbied to block the legislation (Ravitch, 2017).

A recent study from Indiana University confirmed what many have feared. “Voucher programs receive public funding yet discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors” (Hinnefeld, 2017). The study, “Dollars to Discriminate: The (Un)intended Consequences of School Vouchers,” was published last summer in the Peabody Journal of Education.

The researchers examined 25 programs in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that provide public funding for private K-12 schools, including traditional tuition voucher programs and voucher-like programs called education savings accounts. Indiana is one of seven states with a statewide voucher program.

The lead on the research was Julie Mead, a professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She concluded that legislators who authorized the programs neglected to include any policies that provide equal access for students and provide services to students who need them, rather than not accept students into the program.

“We argue that each state has an obligation to ensure that any benefit it creates must be available to all students on a non-discriminatory basic — including the benefit of a publicly funded voucher for attendance at a private school” (Mead, 2016).

Indiana Christian schools that receive vouchers welcome only families that embrace their religious beliefs, including a rejection of a “gay/lesbian lifestyle” that is “contrary to God’s commands” (Bloomington Times-Herald, 2014).

When people come to understand the full story of charters and vouchers, many walk away from their initial beliefs that maybe they can be good. Maybe they can. But you have to look at the cost/benefit, follow the money trail, hold them all accountable for test scores, the recruitment of all children, and then- all things being equal- look at parity and equity.

These are my reflections for today.

2/1/17

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

1 thought on “School Vouchers”

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