Last week was Public Schools Week, a time to remind us of the importance of public education and how to support it. A key part of supporting public schools is protecting them from their adversary: private school voucher programs. We know that these programs are bad public policy for so many reasons, including that they drain public school resources and funnel them into private, mostly religious schools.
Public schools are essential to our society, educating more than 90% of America’s students. But in 2022, we have seen state lawmakers weaponize the COVID-19 pandemic to push private school vouchers instead of supporting public schools. AU is currently tracking more than 200 voucher bills in the states.
Here is a rundown of just a few of the many private school voucher bills we are fighting in states this session:
Arizona: The Arizona Senate is once again pushing to spend more money on its voucher programs, even though Arizona voters overwhelmingly defeated efforts to expand vouchers in 2018. The Senate just passed SB 1657 and SB 1707, both of which would expand the number of students eligible to use one of its existing private school voucher programs. AU sent a letter to members of the Senate, urging them to reject these bills. Although the bills did pass out of the Senate, we will continue to fight when they get to the House floor.
New Hampshire: The House Education Committee voted HB 1588 – a private school voucher program for students who attend a public school with a mask requirement – as “inexpedient to legislate.” This means that the bill isn’t moving forward, but it could be revived later on. HB 1588 is just one example of the kinds of bills that voucher advocates are introducing to take advantage of the COVID pandemic to promote their anti-public-education agenda. We will continue to monitor this legislation.
South Carolina: Lawmakers introduced SB 935, which would create a new statewide voucher program. The bill’s opponents have pointed out that the bill lacks important oversight and accountability measures, which are important to prevent the misuse of public funds that have plagued voucher programs in other states. The bill was debated for the first time in the full Senate Education Committee last week but has not been voted out yet. AU sent a letter to the committee urging its members to oppose SB 935.
Nebraska: In more positive news, legislators just voted down a bill that would have created a tuition tax credit, a form of voucher that uses a complicated tax scheme to siphon public money to private schools. Sen. Megan Hunt led the opposition, explaining that the bill allows taxpayer dollars to fund schools that can discriminate: “It’s not appropriate for public money, tax dollars, to fund that type of bigotry and discrimination.” The proponents of the bill were five votes short of overcoming a filibuster.
Luckily, some of these bills have been moving slowly and have a long road ahead before they become law. Americans United will be there for the fight. And we, along with our allies at National Coalition for Public Education, will be armed with the facts about the myriad of problems with vouchers.
You can join us in this fight: Act now to remind your state lawmakers that they should not drain money away from public schools through private school vouchers.