It’s “School Choice Week,” an annual effort by backers of private school vouchers – including billionaires like Betsy DeVos – to deploy a propaganda blitz to convince Americans that funneling money away from public schools and toward unaccountable private schools, most of which are religious, is good public policy.
It’s not. Vouchers pose a serious threat to the public education system that nearly 90% of our children rely on. And they don’t improve student achievement, lack accountability, fund discrimination, can exacerbate racial segregation and harm religious freedom.
Despite these problems, voucher plans continue to surface in state legislatures. The Iowa House of Representatives and Senate are expected to pass bills as early as today, and lawmakers in Florida, Kansas, South Carolina and Utah are also planning to push voucher bills this week.
Backers don’t like to utter the word “vouchers” because they know Americans oppose those schemes, So they talk about “school choice” instead. But that term is a euphemism – and a myth. It doesn’t exist.
Here are some important facts to consider:
Vouchers give a choice to private schools, not parents.
Parents don’t get a real choice under voucher plans. The people (or religious leaders) who own and operate private schools, not parents, decide who gets to attend. A stack of vouchers a mile high won’t get a child into a private school that doesn’t want him or her. In addition, many private schools charge high tuitions or tack on additional fees. A voucher that pays a fraction of the cost won’t help much, especially for low-income families.
Private schools answer only to themselves.
Unlike public schools, which are governed by democratically elected boards and must meet a host of laws covering curriculum and public accountability, private schools can teach what they want and do not answer to taxpayers. Some fundamentalist academies teach creationism over legitimate science. Other schools teach discredited “Christian nation” versions of history. They may exclude materials that offend whatever religious body runs the schools. And they often employ teachers with no credentials, are operated from dilapidated buildings and lack proper facilities. There is simply no accountability.
Private schools are free to discriminate.
Public schools must abide by anti-discrimination laws. Teachers, staff and students receive protection. Private schools, however, don’t always have to abide by the same civil rights laws that apply to public schools and often deny admission to or expel young people based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, academic abilities, or disability status. This is rank discrimination, and it should never be funded with taxpayer dollars.
Vouchers threaten public education.
Our taxpayer dollars are limited. We should use them to fund programs that help everyone, not a select few. Public schools have enough challenges as it is. Diverting funds to private institutions is not only counterproductive, it threatens the very survival of public education.
Vouchers are an offense to our shared values.
Public schools strive to educate all children, regardless of race, gender, creed or socioeconomic background. They are a visible manifestation of the public good – something we pay for jointly and from which we received a shared benefit, in this case, an educated citizenry. Private education serves a private interest. When we divert taxpayer funds to private schools, we undermine a shared civic goal of education for all.
Don’t be fooled! School Choice Week is a fraud. Tell your lawmakers that public funds should go only to public schools. And to learn more about the problems with vouchers, visit the website of the National Coalition for Public Education.