National School Choice Week: It’s Really About Vouchers

This fight long ago stopped being about improving education. We know that vouchers don’t do that. This is all about ideology.

Yesterday marked the start of “National School Choice Week.” Although some of the groups and individuals behind this annual event are interested in things like charter schools and public school choice, it’s mainly a vehicle for promoting private school voucher plans.

Vouchers, of course, aren’t really about choice. Oh, there’s choice, all right – for the schools. They get to decide which students they will admit. They get to decide what to teach them. They get to decide who will teach there. They get to decide if they want to impose theology onto students.  

And they use those choices. Religious schools kick out students who are LGBTQ – or refuse to admit them in the first place. Recently, several Catholic schools have fired teachers who had the temerity to wed their same-sex partners. Sectarian schools are free to fire people for any number of perceived moral lapses or violations of church dogma. It’s the sort of thing that would never fly in the public schools.

All of that is bad enough. Add to this the fact that vouchers don’t work. No study has ever shown them to be effective. And the American people don’t support them.

So who does support vouchers? These days, it’s a three-headed beast. The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church wants a taxpayer-funded bailout for its flagging private school system. Religious Right activists hate “godless” public education and want tax funding for fundamentalist academies so they can teach things like creationism. Extreme free-market advocates (the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council, Betsy DeVos’ Americans for School Choice) want to dismantle public education because, well, it’s public – and therefore it must be bad.

This fight long ago stopped being about improving education. We know that vouchers don’t do that. This is all about ideology. Private sectarian groups – churches that raise millions every year tax free – want to pick your pocket to pay for their schools. Some of these schools, by the way, teach some pretty wild ideas. (The Earth is 6,000 years old! America was founded to be a “Christian nation”! Gays can become straight if they pray enough! Women should submit to men!)

Americans United co-chairs the National Coalition for Public Education. The Coalition is working to combat the claims of the voucher boosters.

AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett and Sasha Pudelski, associate director of policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, summed it up well in an op-ed that appeared in Politico on Friday.

Study after study shows that vouchers do not improve student education or academic achievement, fail to offer families informed school options, lack accountability to taxpayers and deprive students of rights and protections they would otherwise have in public schools,” Garrett and Pudelski wrote. “Although states have been successful in passing and expanding voucher programs, the programs themselves still remain unsuccessful education policy.”

You can help Americans United combat the claims of the voucher vanguard, this week and all year round. Visit our “Voucher Fail” site for more information.