President Trump Uses Address To Congress To Push Reckless Voucher Scheme. Sad!

President Donald J. Trump last night again touted his misguided idea of funneling public money into the coffers of private schools.

“I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” Trump said during his joint address to Congress. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”

Trump also called education “the civil rights issue of our time” – which makes it ironic that he would push for more students to use vouchers at private schools that can discriminate against LGBTQ and low-income families and children with disabilities.

The non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office last year issued a report that found a host of problems with private school voucher programs. Among them: Students with disabilities and from low-income families are not receiving services to which they are entitled through the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) and Title I (funds for students from low-income areas) programs.

Other problems with voucher programs cited in the report included a drain on the resources of public schools, an inability for families to afford private schools even with vouchers, voucher schools employing teachers that don’t have the same educational training as public school teachers and the inclusion of religion in the curriculum.

The Economic Policy Institute this week released a report that found voucher programs aren’t worth the risks to public schools: “Ideology is not a compelling enough reason to switch to vouchers, given the risks. These risks include increased school segregation; the loss of a common, secular educational experience; and the possibility that the flow of inexperienced young teachers filling the lower-paying jobs in private schools will dry up once the security and benefits offered to more experienced teachers in public schools disappear.”

President Donald J. Trump wants to divert public school funding into private schools. Sad!

While on the campaign trail, Trump proposed to divert $20 billion from public education to pay for voucher schemes. No specific policy proposals on how he would do that were forthcoming during Tuesday’s address – he devoted only a few paragraphs of an hour-long speech to education – but he offered a clue.

Among his guests for the address was Denisha Merriweather, a graduate student whom Trump said enrolled in a private school “with the help of a tax credit scholarship program.”

Tuition tax credits are simply vouchers by another name. Under TTCs, people or businesses get a tax break when they contribute money to an intermediary scholarship organization, which then writes the check for parents to use on private school tuition. (You can learn about different types of voucher programs here.)

TTCs are still a voucher scheme – tax money is going to a private school rather into the public school system. And TTCs add an additional layer of bureaucracy – further reducing any semblance of accountability such programs have. Georgia’s tax credit program was awarded the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Black Hole Award” in 2012 because it lacked accountability and transparency. Plus, isn’t bureaucracy something the Trump administration is trying to reduce?  

We agree that all children should have the opportunity “to break the cycle of poverty,” as Trump said, and receive a quality education. But the answer to accomplishing that is not taking away federal funding from public schools.

“Public money should be spent on public schools,” Barry W. Lynn, AU’s executive director, said in a statement last night. “Public schools serve 90 percent of American children. Voucher schemes, though, divert desperately needed public resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a few students at private schools under the guise of reform. But the results are in on vouchers – they don’t work.”