Just like they promised in their recent election campaigns, several GOP lawmakers around the country are pushing for a major expansion of school vouchers programs.
Extending Vouchers To Middle-Class Families
Since the GOP made major gains at the state level last fall, and school choice is a longtime priority for them, this is not entirely surprising. What is surprising is the diversity of strategies they are using, and how they are seeking to extend the voucher program to middle-class families.
From Education Week:
To date, many state voucher programs have limited eligibility to students from disadvantaged families or other targeted populations, a structure that helped generate political and public support for them.
But legislation in some states, such as Indiana and Pennsylvania, would establish relatively loose income requirements that would give access to families who are not impoverished.
And a sweeping bill in Florida would allow broad public access to vouchers, though the bill’s sponsor says his goal is to have it approved by lawmakers in the Republican-dominated legislature next year, rather than this year.
Backers of the proposals contend that families of all backgrounds — including middle-income ones — deserve more educational options, and that providing funding for private and religious schools would compel traditional public schools to improve.
“We want to empower parents to make choices in education,” said state Rep. Robert Behning, a Republican sponsor of voucher legislation in Indiana. “To provide more choice for parents, you need to create more options. … It shouldn’t be limited to just those at the poverty level.”
At Least 51 Pieces Of Legislation Related To Vouchers
At least 51 different pieces of legislation offering some type of mechanism for providing public funding for private education services have emerged in 35 states this year, according to the Foundation for Educational Choice, an Indianapolis organization that supports vouchers.
Voucher proponents also recently scored a victory in the District of Columbia, when Congress reinstated a voucher program that federal lawmakers had voted to end two years ago.
Lawmakers In Numerous States Working To Expand Vouchers
Lawmakers in numerous states are pushing proposals to set up or expand voucher programs. A few highlights from Education Week:
Arizona: Republican Gov. Janice K. Brewer this month signed into law a bill designed to create vouchers for special education students. But, citing cost concerns, she vetoed a measure that would have expanded a tax-credit program for entities that support private school scholarships.
Florida: A proposal would create “education savings accounts” worth 40 percent of per-student state funding, or about $3,100, which families across the state could use for a host of private school services, including tutoring and virtual education.
Indiana: A Republican-backed measure would set relatively loose eligibility requirements for vouchers and be open to both low- and middle-class families. it would also create tax deductions for vouchers and expand tax credits to organizations supporting them.
Yet, in spite of the push for vouchers, which some see as the beginning of the end for public education, there is virtually no proof that vouchers lead to improved educational outcomes.
In Milwaukee, Voucher Students Perform The Same Or Worse Than Their Non-Voucher Peers
In fact, in the state of Wisconsin, where Governor Walker is joining the bandwagon and proposing to expand the voucher program currently only available to low-income students in Milwaukee, there is evidence that the voucher students in Milwaukee Public Schools performed the same or worse, compared to their non-voucher peers.
From Mother Jones:
Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.
MPS results overall showed 59% of students scoring proficient or better in reading, while 47.8% of students scored proficient or better in math. In the voucher program, 55.2% of students scored proficient or better in reading while 34.4% of students scored proficient or better in math.
Governor Walker Suggests No Standardized Tests For Voucher Students
So guess what? Governor Walker has suggested doing away with the requirement that students in tax-supported voucher schools take the same tests as students in tax-supported public schools. Hum, I wonder why that could be?
Vouchers take money away from already cash-strapped school districts, and there is no clear proof that students using these vouchers do any better than their non-voucher peers.
The spread of vouchers under the guise of “school choice” is a bad idea.
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