This morning, Congress passed a budget deal to avoid a prolonged government shutdown. The deal includes lots of other measures, including a disaster-relief package for those affected by the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires. Tucked within that proposal is a reckless provision that funnels taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools.
After the devastating hurricanes and wildfires of 2017, many families were displaced and students had to change schools, in addition to their neighborhoods. For example, nearly 1,500 displaced students – most from Puerto Rico – have been admitted into public schools in Connecticut.
The schools accepting these students, however, don’t have money in their budgets for these extra kids. Our public schools, of course, will serve them anyway. This bill provides an infusion of additional funds for a limited period – through 2022 – to help these schools serve displaced students.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that the bill permits tax dollars to flow both to public and private schools. In other words, the bill gives vouchers to certain students. The provision, in large part, mirrors a voucher plan Congress adopted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But just because they did it once before doesn’t make it a good idea.
Students who accept these vouchers will have to forfeit many of the rights and protections they would otherwise receive in public school. For example, voucher schools can pick and choose which students to admit, and they can deny students based on their academic achievement, economic status, religion or language spoken.
In addition, study after study shows that private voucher schools provide fewer services for students, including a lack of the resources and expertise necessary to educate students who are English language learners.
Florida has received thousands of displaced students following Hurricane Maria. This bill will use taxpayer dollars to pay for many of them to attend private institutions, even though the majority of the state’s private schools are unaccredited, and the state’s existing voucher programs have been found to be rife with fraud, abuse and lack of oversight.
Sending students in need of critical support and services to private voucher schools that are unlikely to provide those resources isn’t what’s best for these kids. Rather, our taxpayer dollars would be better spent funding the public schools that have already been serving displaced students since last fall – schools that embrace all students, regardless of academic achievement, religion, disability or English language ability.
For more information on private school vouchers and why they are bad education policy, check out the National Coalition for Public Education website.