Public Schools

West Virginia Legislators Were Determined To Pass A Voucher Plan. The State’s Teachers Had Other Ideas.

  Rob Boston

Private school voucher plans don’t boost student achievement, and they threaten public education by draining away needed funds. Nevertheless, legislators continue to push them in a number of states. The good news is that people are fighting back, and, increasingly, the anti-voucher charge is being led by the men and women who best understand the threat vouchers pose: public school teachers.

In West Virginia, teachers went on strike yesterday to protest a bill that would establish “education savings accounts” – a type of voucher plan – in the state. Within hours, the House of Delegates voted to table the bill, which would have cost at least $20 million. The teachers plan to stay off the job today just to make sure the Senate doesn’t try to resurrect it.

“It’s … clear we cannot trust the leadership in the Senate,” Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said. “That’s why we are staying out one more day to make sure this is a dead bill.”

The Washington Post reported that the voucher plan was part of an education package that also included money for charter schools and a modest raise in teacher salaries. But the state’s teachers knew better than to allow vouchers to gain a foothold in their state and went to the mat to stop the scheme.

Albert said teachers in the state felt that they were not being heard. Legislators brought in proponents of education privatization from out of state and allowed them to testify at length during hearings while homegrown advocates of public education were given far less time to speak.

“We’re left no other choice,” Albert said of the decision to strike. “Our voice has been shut out.”

National groups did what they could to help. On Feb. 4, Americans United sent a letter to members of the West Virginia Senate, urging them to reject the bill.

“Private school vouchers divert desperately needed public resources away from public schools to fund the education of a few students at private schools; yet they do not improve educational outcomes,” wrote AU State Policy Counsel Nik Nartowicz. “In fact, studies of the Indiana, Washington, DC, Louisiana, and Ohio voucher programs revealed that students who used vouchers actually performed worse on standardized tests than their peers not in voucher programs.”

Data from AU and on-the-ground activism by teachers proved to be a winning combination. The successful drive in West Virginia is similar to a push in Arizona last year, where public school parents and teachers joined forces to pass a ballot initiative rolling back a voucher plan in that state.

The school voucher “experiment” has been operating in some states since the early 1990s. It’s now clear that it has been a miserable failure. More and more Americans are waking up to this fact and demanding that lawmakers adequately fund our public schools. It is, after all, the system that serves 90 percent of our children, the system that doesn’t discriminate and the system that is accountable to all taxpayers.

The new anti-voucher push is a welcome development – and America’s teachers are the natural ones to lead it.

P.S. Americans United is proud to co-chair the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE). Founded in 1978, NCPE supports public schools and opposes boondoggles that funnel public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits and other mechanism. Learn more about the threat vouchers pose here.


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