President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are scheming to use the new coronavirus relief bill as a vehicle to push private school vouchers. Trump seems to believe this will boost his flagging standing with the American people, and Republicans have argued that promoting vouchers will attract suburban women, as well Black and Latino voters. Trump has even made remarks like, “Frankly, school choice is the civil rights statement of the year” and “There is nothing that the African American community wants more than school choice.”
These comments reflect a disconnect from political reality. Although Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Republican officials believe that vouchers are an issue worth pursuing to gain support, the voting record on this matter shows otherwise: Vouchers are not popular with voters. AU has compiled a list of ballot initiatives from states all over the country dating back to the 1960s that planned to use public taxpayer funding to support private schools. In all of these instances, voters rejected voucher schemes, proving that policies like school vouchers actually have very little support among the American electorate. (In Arizona, voters went to the polls in 2018 and rolled back an expansion to that state’s voucher plan that had been approved by the legislature – 65 percent to 35 percent.)
The National Coalition for Public Education, an umbrella organization of defenders of public education that AU co-chairs, points out that there are several reasons why people do not support school vouchers and why vouchers are actually largely ineffective at helping to improve the education system. For instance, school vouchers take needed assistance away from public school systems to fund the private education of a much smaller population of students.
Private school vouchers also do not save taxpayers dollars in the long run. The number of students using private school vouchers to leave public schools is so minimal that it does not affect the operating costs of public schools. Therefore, public schools are only losing out on necessary funding at the hands of the voucher system. In addition, many pro-voucher supporters have argued that they help give education options and opportunities to low-income students. However, as NCPE notes, studies have found that “private school vouchers do not adequately serve low-income students.” This is because the price of private school tuition and fees often exceed the amount of the voucher itself.
Since private school vouchers are ineffective, take necessary funding away from public schools and have little support among voters, Trump’s focus on this issue will likely not give him the support he craves and will only end up harming the public education system.