It’s no secret that one of the top agenda items for the Trump Administration is the promotion of private school vouchers. President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly touted failing voucher programs across the country as models for education reform.
This is particularly true when it comes to our nation’s only federally funded voucher program, the Washington, D.C., voucher program. At an event last year hosted by the White House, Vice President Mike Pence called the D.C. voucher program “a case study in school choice success.” But how can the administration deem the program successful when it has been shown time and again to fail students?
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education released a study on the effects of the D.C. voucher program. The study looked at the voucher program’s impact on students and parents two years after students applied to the program. The department found that, once again, students in the D.C. voucher program are performing worse academically than their peers not in the program. And what’s more, students’ negative scores were worse this year than they were last year.
Specifically, when comparing students using a voucher with those students who applied for but were denied a voucher, the study found that voucher students overall performed 10 percentage points worse in math. This represents an even greater decrease in voucher students’ negative math performance from the previous year’s study, meaning that the gap in math achievement between voucher students and non-voucher students is growing. The study also noted that students entering grades kindergarten through fifth grade, which makes up the largest percentage of the voucher program’s applicants – at 68 percent – had negative impacts in both math and reading scores compared to their peers not in the voucher program.
This year’s study is only the latest installment in a series of findings that voucher programs across the country are failing to produce better educational outcomes for students, and in fact, lead to declines. This is true not only in D.C., but also in places like Ohio, Louisiana and Indiana.
When confronted with evidence that voucher programs are leading to declines in student academic achievement, voucher proponents are quick to point out that there are other important factors to consider. It’s true that test scores are not the only indicator of a program’s success. However, when examining other factors, the department’s study revealed that D.C. vouchers are not producing the results that voucher proponents want. For example, the study found that after two years in the program, there was no statistically significant impact on students’ or parents’ general satisfaction with their school, nor was there a statistically significant impact on parental involvement.
The study confirms what we already know to be true: Voucher programs do not offer real choice for families. Private schools can choose to accept or reject students based on a student’s disability, disciplinary history, LGBTQ status or a host of other factors. They can also charge tuition high enough that it is impossible for a family using a voucher to afford the cost of attendance. In fact, 70 percent of the private schools in the program were found to charge tuition above the maximum amount of the voucher – on average, over $13,000 above the voucher amount.
Other findings of the study show that voucher schools aren’t adequately serving students. The study found that, as compared to their non-voucher peers, voucher students had less access to resources for students with learning disabilities and students who are English language learners, received an hour less in classroom instruction time per week in math and reading and generally had fewer schoolwide safety resources than non-voucher students.
What’s clear from this study is that the D.C. voucher program is not working. It’s funneling taxpayer dollars to private, religious schools all while continuing to fail D.C.’s students.
To read more on the numerous studies on the D.C. voucher program and other programs across the country, see the website for the National Coalition for Public Education, which Americans United co-chairs. And to learn more about why AU opposes private school vouchers, check out our video on how vouchers undermine public education and threaten religious freedom.