Dangerous Wave: School Voucher Tsunami Threatens To Swamp Public Education

Vouchers are a bad deal all around.

The surge of vouchers in states nationwide threatens to become a tidal wave as 13 states either expanded or created voucher or neo-voucher programs in 2013.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the expanded or created programs this year consisted of every scheme imaginable: tuition tax credits, private school “scholarships” and bad, old-fashioned vouchers.

(The unlucky 13 states that created or expanded voucher schemes this year are: Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. NCSL’s list didn’t include Louisiana, which voted in June to double the size of its voucher program to 4,000 students, nor Arizona, which expanded its “Empowerment Scholarship Account.”)

The NSCL said this represented a big uptick from both 2012 (when eight states created or expanded voucher programs) and 2011 (when seven did so).

Stateline, which is a news service operated by the Pew Charitable Trusts, said vouchers are likely on the rise thanks to increasing state revenues.

For example, South Carolina had tried to create a tax credit “scholarship” program for donations made to tuition assistance groups, but failed for a decade because the state just didn’t have the funds to make it happen. Until this year, that is.   

North Carolina took the step of switching out its tax credit program with a more expensive voucher scheme, offering vouchers worth up to $6,000 per year. Iowa, meanwhile, increased the cap on its tax credit ploy, and will hand out $12 million instead of $8.75 million. Georgia made a similar move, upping its tax credit cap to $58 million from $50 million, according to the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice, a pro-voucher group.

Despite those depressing numbers, Stateline did highlight a few instances where states managed to resist the school privatization boosters and thwart voucher schemes. In six states, voucher or tax credit proposals came up but none became law.

In Montana, for example, a GOP dominated legislature OK’ed a tax credit program, but it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D). In Texas Republicans were simply unable to assemble the votes needed to approve their proposals.

These victories are something of a consolation prize since the reality here is pretty bleak. States will continue to get more tax revenue as the U.S. economy recovers, and that means more and more misguided lawmakers will try to push voucher ploys on their constituents.

This must be something of a dream come true for the Religious Right, the Roman Catholic hierarchy and those that dislike public education, because it will offer them ample opportunities to hand over taxpayer dollars to religious institutions at the expense of the public school system.

Americans United will continue to fight hard against vouchers and their cousins, tax credit “scholarships.” But we can’t do it alone. That’s why we need your help. Tell your lawmakers that you don’t support vouchers because they don’t improve educational outcomes, they hurt public schools (many of which are already struggling) and they unconstitutionally force you to subsidize religious organizations that you might not want to support.

Vouchers are a bad deal all around, and this nationwide expansion absolutely must be curbed.