Public schools are open to all students regardless of race, religion or ability. They are a unifying force in our society. Private school vouchers undermine our public schools by funneling desperately needed public resources away from them to fund the education of a few students at private, religious schools.
Vouchers also harm fundamental principles of religious freedom. Each of us should get to decide how – and whether – to support religion. But private school vouchers use public money to fund primarily religious education.
And vouchers offend basic rules of fairness. Voucher schools are permitted to take public funds but reject students for any number of reasons, including because the student has a disability, is LGBTQ or belongs to the “wrong” religion.
State legislatures have devised a variety of potential voucher schemes, and in today’s preview we’ll focus on three specific bills:
Pennsylvania SB 2: This bill would create an education savings account (ESA) voucher program. ESAs take taxpayer funds that would ordinarily go to public schools and deposit the money into accounts that parents can use for a variety of educational expenses, including tuition at private religious schools.
In addition to the bill’s many other problems, this ESA, like most all voucher programs, would allow taxpayer dollars to be spent at schools that do not protect students’ civil rights. The bill lacks requirements that ESA funds must be used to provide a secular education. Nor does the bill mandate that schools receiving taxpayer funding have antidiscrimination policies to protect LGBTQ students, students with disabilities and students of minority faiths.
Public money should fund public schools, which educate 90 percent of American schoolchildren.
Mississippi SB 2372: This bill would create a tuition tax credit (TTC) voucher that gives corporations a tax credit of up to $300,000 a year in exchange for donating money to an intermediary organization. This organization then cuts a check for students’ tuition at a private school. Bottom line, public money – up to $92 million across the state each year under this bill – will be funneled to private schools and away from public schools.
TTCs also remove government oversight from the voucher program, making them ripe for waste, fraud and abuse. For example, in some states, businesses and individuals that take advantage of a TTC can actually receive more money in tax breaks than they donate.
Florida SB 1172: This bill would create a TTC voucher for public school students who have faced bullying or other harassment. With all of the well-documented problems found in Florida with voucher programs, you’d think they’d avoid more vouchers.
Again, this bill comes with all the problems we see in every voucher bill. Unfortunately, the bill may also create more problems for victims of bullying than it would solve. Protecting students from harassment, bullying and assault is obviously a laudable goal. But this bill’s solution would be to simply move the victim from their public school to a private, and likely religious, school. The bill does not punish the bully or address the problem of bullying, and it subjects the victim to further disruption. And though Florida has robust anti-bullying laws, they do not apply to private schools. A bullied student could switch schools only to be bullied again, this time without recourse. (Today, AU outlined our opposition to this bill in a letter we sent to Florida senators.)
All three of these states already have some form of voucher programs, so these bills are just meant to divert even more money to private schools. And we know many more bills will be introduced to expand or create new private school voucher bills. Join us in our fight to oppose them.
A voucher bill could be introduced in your state, so make sure you sign up for our action alerts now to stay up-to-date on what is happening and how you can help. And follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed and share our posts with your family, friends, neighbors and legislators to amplify the message. If you want more details on the many problems with voucher programs, visit the National Coalition for Public Education, which AU co-chairs, to learn more.