Amid this national school-funding crisis, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to push for expanding federally funded private school voucher schemes that would underfund public schools even more. Their proposed education budget would divert $1 billion from public education to private, mostly religious schools.
It’s hard to fathom how public schools and the educators who already spend significant portions of their own paychecks supplying students will survive if the Trump administration takes away even more funding from the public schools that educate 90 percent of American schoolchildren.
On Monday, The New York Times published a powerful series of personal stories from teachers from across the nation who wrote in to explain how dire the funding situation already is in their schools:
- Kelsey Pavelka, a Nevada elementary school teacher, explained that she was provided with six laptops – many with broken keys and chargers – to teach a classroom of 42 fifth-graders how to type and to prepare them for a state standardized test. She turned to crowdfunding to buy 10 more laptops for her students.
- Kathryn Vaughn, a Tennessee art teacher, is tasked with providing 800 students art lessons on a total annual supply budget of $100. “I’ve had to become incredibly resourceful with the supplies,” she said. Her resourcefulness was showcased in a photo she provided of pickle jars full of used markers soaking in water – her homemade attempt at manufacturing watercolor paints.
- In DeVos’ home state of Michigan, high school media specialist Elliot Glaser photographed the sparse shelves of new books he was able to purchase for his library this year: about 30 total books for a school of 1,650 students, a quarter of whom are described as English Language Learners – students who don’t speak English well or at all and need as many resources for reading as possible. His school’s library had a $500 materials budget this year, up from zero the past two years. “I am lucky, since our elementary and middle school libraries received no budget at all for the fourth straight year.”
Teachers aren’t alone in pointing out the results of reduced public school funding. In a recent story by The Washington Post about the teacher protest in Oklahoma and DeVos’ clueless response to it, the author included a social media post from an Oklahoma parent that featured a photo of a textbook with no cover and a crumbling binding. “This is a textbook from my daughter’s class,” the parent tweeted. “It’s a history book and the current President in it is George W. Bush. We can do better Oklahoma.”
Americans United has repeatedly pointed out that private school vouchers are bad public education policy: They strip civil rights protections from students, can lead to decreases in students’ academic achievement, lack accountability and violate religious freedom by requiring taxpayer to pay for religious education. (All of these concerns and more are summarized in this video AU produced).
Public dollars should fund public schools. Taxpayers can’t afford to fund two education systems – one public and one private. It’s disgraceful that the Trump administration and some states are even considering vouchers during a time when so many public schools are cash strapped.
And yet Trump and DeVos continue to ignore what’s best for American children – adequately funded public schools that serve everyone. In addition to their proposal to increase federal voucher funding in the education budget, DeVos supports a Heritage Foundation-backed bill in Congress that would take federal money from the public schools serving the children of military families and divert that money to pay for a voucher-type program for military-connected children.
As noted by The Military Coalition – a consortium of more than 25 organizations representing more than 5.5 million active and former members of the U.S. military and their families – the bill, called the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act, would be “financially devastating for many school districts, critically compromising the quality of the education they could provide to military children and their civilian classmates.” The National Coalition for Public Education, which AU co-chairs, also opposes the bill.
As we noted during Public Schools Week last month, Americans United has supported strong, secular, public education throughout our 71-year history, and we don’t plan to stop now. You can join us by urging your state and federal lawmakers to oppose private school voucher legislation.