It seems American’s taxpayers are on their way to spending $1 billion annually on vouchers and other so-called “school choice” programs. And just what, exactly, are those taxpayers getting for their money? Certainly not a better education for their children.
Americans United recently compiled an extensive report on all the problems with vouchers and offered a mountain of evidence to show that they just don’t work (you can read that report here).
But you don’t have to take our word for it. This week, Politico put together a voucher expose of its own, and reached the same conclusion as AU: vouchers are failing.
First, there is ample evidence that students who receive vouchers don’t show improved test scores. Take Milwaukee, where a mere 13 percent of voucher students had proficient scores in math and only 11 percent were deemed proficient in reading this year. Milwaukee’s public schools, on the other hand, fared better than the voucher students. It was the same story in Cleveland, where voucher students in most grades scored lower than their public-school peers in math.
As for Louisiana, which has an extensive and ever-growing voucher scheme, many of the popular private schools that accept voucher students did terribly in math, reading, science and social studies this year; Politico said most of the voucher students at these schools couldn’t demonstrate even a minimum level of proficiency. Seven Louisiana voucher schools did so poorly, in fact, that state Superintendent John White said they can’t take on any new voucher students. And yet, the state said it will continue to pay the tuition for more than 200 voucher students already enrolled at those schools.
Second, many schools that accept voucher students use taxpayer money to teach religion. Zack Kopplin, an AU ally and student activist who advocates for sound science education, has uncovered over 300 voucher schools nationwide that teach creationism as fact. One of those schools in Louisiana sent parents a newsletter that referred to secular scientists as “sinful men.”
Third, counter to what voucher advocates say, participants in “school choice” programs aren’t always poor or stuck in bad schools. Milwaukee’s voucher program accepts students who come from four-member households with annual incomes up to $71,000, while Louisiana’s program is capped at a $59,000 income for households of four. Those are well above the federal poverty guideline for a family of four, which is $23,550.
Politico also said many voucher students were attending private schools before they got a state subsidy. In Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program, for example, two-thirds of students now receiving vouchers already went to private schools in the first place.
“The taxpayers are paying for a second, competing school system that doesn’t do as well as the one we already have,” Wisconsin state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) told Politico. “It’s extremely irresponsible stewardship of tax dollars.”
But even as the evidence against vouchers continues to mount, it doesn’t seem to be having much effect on the staunchest “school choice” advocates. In fact, Politico said 245,000 students nationwide are now getting some sort of voucher subsidy, as 16 states plus Washington, D.C., have some kind of voucher program.
Why is this happening? It could be because some voucher advocates just don’t care about the facts. Louisiana claims a 93 percent satisfaction rate with its program, which is currently being challenged by the Obama administration for allegedly inhibiting court-ordered desegregation.
Politico managed to find a Louisiana resident who loves vouchers, even though her daughter attends a failing private school. Alicia Bordere’s daughter uses a voucher to attend a private Christian school that had such poor test results the state said it can’t take on any new voucher students. But Bordere claimed her daughter attends a “good school” because she likes the Bible curriculum and believes her child is safe there.
While it’s difficult to say just how many people feel like Bordere, her sentiment could explain why voucher programs continue to expand even though they don’t work, and polls consistently show that most people don’t even want them.
It’s sad to say, but as long as people in positions of power continue to ignore the facts about vouchers (and many politicians do) these schemes won’t go away anytime soon.