Vouching For Failure: Georgia Legislator Is Pushing Statewide Private School Scheme

For some reason, when it comes to private school vouchers, state legislators can't seem to give it a rest.

Georgia's Senate Education and Youth Committee held a hearing yesterday to consider SB 90, which would make tuition vouchers available to virtually any student in the state.

The bill, introduced by State Senator Eric Johnson, would provide parents of each Georgia child about $5,000 in taxpayer money to be used to defray the cost of enrollment at religious and other private schools.

But as Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it, "What he hasn't provided — what no one has provided — is a convincing argument as to why."

That's something Americans United asks about vouchers all the time. Despite knowledge that vouchers violate state constitutions, don't work, and hurt public schools, 27 state legislatures have introduced voucher bills or tuition tax credits already this year, according to AU's legislative department.

When states offer voucher programs, they are using taxpayer money to fund religious schools that are free to discriminate in hiring, discriminate in admissions and indoctrinate children in the tenets of one faith.

That transgresses provisions in 37 state constitutions, including Georgia's, that prohibit taxpayer funds for religious education.

But leaving aside constitutional ramifications, it's clear that voucher schemes just don't work and are harmful to public schools.

When the idea of vouchers first surfaced in the 1980s, it was proposed as a solution for students struggling in public schools.

Yet according to multiple studies of the Milwaukee and Cleveland programs, voucher students do no better in reading and math than kids who stay in public schools. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which was just released in June 2008, showed voucher students attending private schools in Washington, D.C., are also performing the same on reading and math tests as students who have remained in the public school system.

Even long-time advocates of vouchers are backing down. An article in the April 2008 issue of Washington Monthly concluded that "some stalwart advocates of vouchers have either repudiated the idea entirely or considerably tempered their enthusiasm for it." The article cited former Milwaukee superintendent Howard Fuller, who admitted, "It hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory."

What vouchers have done is hurt public schools systems by taking funding they would have received and given it to religious and other private schools. That's not something most Americans want. In the last 30 years, every time citizens have been asked to vote on voucher referenda, they have voted no by large margins.

Unfortunately, Sen. Johnson and other legislators across the country have failed to catch on.