By Erik Lepisto ’20
Ever since Betsy Devos was confirmed as Secretary of Education last month, there has been an increased interest in educational policy like never before. Unfortunately, many people seemingly have very little knowledge about the fundamental debates, contrasting policies, and different types of educational “reform.” This is the case because we just had an important election, but there was very little substantial debate or discussion about the different routes K-12 education can take. Many American citizens believe that the America’s Public Schools are failing the future generations. To solve this issue politicians on both sides have hailed “school choice” specifically schools vouchers as the magical remedy to this ailment yet questions remain about the practice. Who can receive the voucher? Do they actually improve educational outcomes? What is the cost? Is their accountability? And most importantly does it provide an academically excellent education for all students? Therefore, let’s go point by point about voucher schools analyze their outcomes.
What even are Schools Vouchers?
They are public funds given to parents in the form of a voucher or a tax credit to help pay for private school for their children. Many supporters hail them as a way to cut the achievement gap and help lower income student succeed by escaping “failing” public schools.
Who can receive the voucher?
It depends, some states put a cap on parental income others have no limit what so ever. Therefore, even wealthy families can take advantage of the subsidized tuition at public schools. This undermines the purpose of the programs and only diverts funds out of public schools and funnel them to private schools.
What is the cost?
Also, it depends…Cleveland public schools in 2011 was spending over 100 million dollars a year (Cleveland Plain Dealer). The private schools in Milwaukee received 50 million dollars over the past decade (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Does it adhere to the same standards and accountability?
NO! Since the school is private, it does not need to adhere to any state standard or take any state tests to determine its effectiveness like public schools. This is alright if theses schools were being funding by tuition, but now with vouchers, there is public money involved. Taxpayers should demand the same accountability to private schools receiving voucher funds, as their money could be wasted.
But does it improve educational outcomes?
All of these problems might be ok if this improved student performance and provides an excellent education but there is not conclusive evidence that this is the case. Congress evaluated the Washington D.C voucher program called “Opportunity Scholarship Program.” There finding read “There is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement.” In Milwaukee, studies by the University of Arkansas concluded only limited improvement in reading and only a 4% increase in high school graduation rate. And in other states like Florida, there has been fraud the New York Times called the voucher program “a cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” This was because unaccredited private schools took the public funds and spent less per pupil and made the rest in profit. All while betraying the taxpayers, parents and must importantly the students by not providing a better education than the traditional public school would. Also, there are deep concerns about the increasing segregation on both racial and class lines.
In conclusion, the word is still out on the success of vouchers but why are leaders in the Trump administration embracing them wholeheartedly as the silver bullet to improve education? I believe they want to undermine public education to save money. They also want to attack their political enemies like teachers unions by limiting their influence. Cynically, I believe that they want to reward their wealthy campaign donors and voters by giving them tax credits or vouchers to help pay to go to private school.
Vouchers hurt our most vulnerable and impoverished children by taking money from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private ones betraying the taxpayer. Even more shamefully politicians deflect this criticism and say it helps these very same children when no study conclusively proves this. Overall its effects are to allow individuals to make a profit off our children’s education and destroy our nation’s public schools.
All of the information stated here was learned by reading “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch. She is the former Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W Bush. I would highly recommend the book to learn more about educational policy and the issue facing public schools today.