Not True Choices in “National School Choice Week”

The name “School Choice Week” sounds inevitably positive: the more choices, the better, right? Why would anybody not support school choice? Unfortunately, in the case of school vouchers, this choice is often an illusion. Here’s why:

The private school you choose may be worse than a public school. Most voucher schemes do not hold private schools accountable for academic performance and provide little oversight. Many voucher programs don’t even require schools to hire certified teachers (or even hold bachelor’s degrees), and don’t require students to take standardized tests. Furthermore, giving students vouchers to use at private schools has not demonstrated improved academic performance. Multiple studies show that in the District of Columbia, New York, and Ohio voucher programs, targeted participants didn’t perform better academically than their public school counterparts.

Even with vouchers, elite private schools are out of reach. Only 3 percent of D.C. voucher participants attended the most expensive schools with tuition of $20,000 or more. The vast majority of students in the voucher program are only able to attend schools costing $7,500 or less, which tend to be religious schools subsidized by the church. Indeed, roughly 80 percent of those using D.C. vouchers go to religious schools. Not only do students in these programs attend undistinguished schools, but they could be unaccredited family-run schools with few quality controls operating out of a storefront or a converted residence building.

If your student has special needs, private schools may have even fewer resources from which to choose. The Department of Education study of the D.C. voucher program shows students are less likely to have access to ESL programs, learning support and special needs programs, tutors, counselors, and nurse’s offices than students not in the program. Plus, the private schools are not required to follow the guidelines stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including the use of Individualized Education Plans, often leading to ineffective care for exceptional children.

Even if you choose the “right” school, the school doesn’t have to choose you. Private schools can, in many cases, deny admission to any students due to their gender, ability, religion, national origin, economic background, language ability, or behavior. The discrimination doesn’t end there: the schools are also not subject to all federal civil rights laws provisions, including those in Title VI, Title IX, IDEA, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Taxpayers are not choosing to pay to spread misinformation: With no accountability or regulation of what they teach, many schools could have facts like this in their textbooks. That’s not the education our taxes should be supporting. Check out AU’s tumblr page showing all the ways vouchers fail our students.