Private school vouchers are being pushed by short-sighted leaders all around the country. About 20 states currently have some sort of private school voucher program and many state leaders intend to try to expand and create even more next year, despite the even further diminishing public support of vouchers.
Proponents of vouchers often claim they will help children in high-poverty communities get out of failing public schools and attend private schools they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. The truth is: many voucher recipients are already attending these private schools.
For example, voucher proponents reacted to a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s private school voucher program with these dramatic headlines: Why does Obama's Justice Department want to send poor, black kids to failing schools?; Justice Department bids to trap poor, black children in ineffective schools; and DOJ Tries to Stop School-Choice for Poor Children in Failing Louisiana Public Schools.
These headlines could not be more misleading.
In fact, recent data about the Wisconsin voucher program shows that only 21 percent of students receiving voucher attended a public school last year. In Wisconsin, private school vouchers are not “saving” kids from public schools – the vast majority of children accepting vouchers in Wisconsin were already in private schools, and the majority of children in public schools are staying there. The argument that vouchers will help “poor children trapped in public schools” does not hold.
As we’ve said on this blog many times before, vouchers simply don’t work. Vouchers take away much-needed funds from public schools, which accept everybody, and put them towards private and religious schools, which only serve a few. These voucher schools lack academic accountability, civil rights protections (especially for children with special needs), quality control, and they violate religious freedoms by funding religious education with taxpayer money. Not only that, but voucher schools are free to reject students on a whim, taking away any real choice parents thought they were getting.
Voucher proponents are hurting the population they claim to be helping. Many politicians push for vouchers because they have the illusion of creating a competitive marketplace of schools. This idea does not work in practice – removing resources does not make public schools better, instead it just leaves public schools and their most vulnerable students behind.