This week is “National School Choice” week. Although many of the participants and supporters of the event join solely to support public school choice options, like charter schools and magnets schools, the organizers’ true purpose is to push private school choice options, specifically vouchers.
Unfortunately, that nuance often gets lost in this well-funded event, which is oddly filled with Heritage Foundation 5k races, Heartland Foundation bowling parties, and even official dance performances. School Choice Week might be a big, expensive production, but that doesn’t mean the public – or even all its participants – wants private school vouchers. To the contrary, the vast majority of the public opposes vouchers, whether in opinion polls or at the voting booth.
It makes sense that vouchers are unpopular. Vouchers don’t improve academic achievement. They also predominantly flow to religious schools, thus requiring all taxpayers to subsidize religious indoctrination. And, voucher programs contain virtually no accountability measures, whether to ensure that the voucher schools are actually teaching students, have valid curriculum, are teaching students from a gas station or even have working bathrooms.
Vouchers don’t save the taxpayers money, like their proponents claim. For example, in Indiana – the most expansive voucher program in the country – the state recently announced that, contrary to claims that the voucher program saved the state money, it was forced to spend $16 million to fund the program. This is because the state’s program allows for vouchers to go to students who are already enrolled in private schools, meaning that the state must spend more to subsidize tuition for families that can already afford to send their kids to private schools.
Furthermore, the promise that vouchers somehow decrease social inequality or improve opportunities for disadvantaged students is flat out false. In reality, vouchers exacerbate inequality. Private schools that take taxpayer money also often have anti-LBGT policies and systematically fail to provide student with disabilities the protections and opportunities provided in their public schools.
Nonetheless, wealthy interest groups are successfully passing voucher programs throughout the states and are finding more and more supporters in Congress. There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit programs in 23 states and at least 10 states are looking to create new or expanding existing school voucher programs this year.
In Congress, we expect to see amendments to turn existing education funding programs into school vouchers or voucher-like programs. In fact, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will be marking up the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in February, which will likely contain a battle on these issues.
If you care about public education and oppose vouchers, “School Choice Week” is the perfect time to let your legislators know. Don’t let this well organized event drown out the voice of the majority, which opposes vouchers and voucher-like schemes.