A “school choice” advocacy group recently put out a report card on voucher programs around the country, but the rankings aren’t based on things like test scores, graduation rates or college prep. Instead, the Center For Education Reform (CER) rated state programs based on how easy it is for students to obtain a voucher.
CER looked at the 14 states plus Washington, D.C., with voucher schemes. It gave out three As, three Bs, seven Cs and two Ds.
The As went to Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Indiana has the largest voucher program in the country, so that is no surprise. CER heaped praise on the Hoosier State, giddily stating that it “leads the country, with a universal voucher program open to all students across the state and no limit on the number of vouchers that can be awarded.”
However, CER’s remarks were not all positive for Indiana: “The state is the second-worst in the country on infringing on private school autonomy, mandating such things as course content and insisting on allowing government observation of classes,” the report says.
As far as CER is concerned, lawmakers apparently should hand over money to private schools without ever checking in to make sure they get a return on their investment and to ensure that students get a quality education.
Ohio’s A is a bit puzzling; CER said Ohio’s “tops-in-the-nation number of students participating in voucher programs is a worthy achievement,” yet voucher advocates have long complained that most of the state’s allotted vouchers aren’t handed out. In fact, Ohio offers 60,000 vouchers through its EdChoice program, but only about one-third were actually used last year.
Among the C students is Louisiana, which seems odd given that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is one of the loudest voucher advocates in the U.S. So why the low ranking?
CER says Louisiana “has such significant regulatory intrusion on private school autonomy – including required open enrollment for voucher students, mandatory state testing, and exclusion of new private schools from participating – that the program falls fast and hard in this ranking.”
It’s hard not to laugh at that assessment. In December 2013, a report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office found the state’s voucher program lacks standards to ensure that schools spend voucher money the way they’re supposed to and that they actually educate their students.
The situation was so bad that the report concluded the state should “develop formal criteria for determining whether participating schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they request.”
Given those extensive problems, how much less oversight does CER want to see for voucher schemes? The group probably would not be satisfied unless there are no rules at all.
You might ask yourself: Why would CER care more about voucher accessibility than educational quality? The answer lies in the fact that CER doesn’t actually care about education reform. In reality, it’s not much more than a voucher front group for forces that seek to privatize secondary education. They want you the taxpayer to subsidize their private schools – but don’t expect any meaningful oversight.
Established by the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton, the foundation gives hundreds of millions to “school choice” advocates annually. In 2007-08 alone, the foundation dumped $232 million into efforts to promote “school choice” schemes in the states, including vouchers, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has reported.
CER also seems to be against the spirit of vouchers, which are supposedly intended to help low-income students escape so-called “failing” public schools in favor of private or charter schools. But it appears CER doesn’t want to see any limitations on income levels for voucher programs. As it stands, plenty of students who already attended private schools have been able to obtain vouchers, meaning some wealthy families are getting a taxpayer bailout they hardly need.
Americans United opposes vouchers primarily because such schemes allow taxpayer dollars to flow directly to private, religious schools. If CER gets its wish, there will be virtually no limits on any state voucher ploys and even more public money will be used to prop up sectarian schools – no matter what type of “education” they may offer.