Vouchers for Private Schools—Is It Really About Kids?

Posted on: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 09:00

Proponents of voucher programs frequently cite the opportunity for students living in poverty to go to a private school as the motivation for legislation.  I recently learned the tax incentive attached to these programs is also extremely lucrative. Why aren’t we talking about that motivation?

Legislation before Congress called the Educational Opportunities Act would allow individuals and businesses in any state to receive federal tax credits for donations to school voucher nonprofits. In some states, these individuals and businesses would also receive state tax credits. By stacking state and federal credits, the individual or business donors get a dollar in state credit and a dollar in federal credit for every dollar donated. That becomes a risk-free, 100% profit of up to $4,500 for an individual and $100,000 for a corporation. These are tax dollars that would otherwise be spent on vital public services!

And what makes this even worse is that the private schools that enroll students receiving voucher scholarships do not have to meet any accountability requirements.  While every public school student is tested to ensure accountability for public funding, there are virtually no expectations for accountability for students using public funding to attend private schools. We want results for students who attend public schools using tax dollars but not for students who attend private schools using tax dollars.

A recent study by Dr. Martin Carnoy of Stanford University analyzed 25 years of research on voucher programs. He examined many of the impacts associated with the use of vouchers. I recommend reading his entire report.

Here’s one of his findings that I find most compelling:

In Milwaukee, where the nation’s second-largest (after Indiana’s more recent) voucher program has been operating for almost 20 years, only a quarter of students attend their neighborhood school. “If choice were the answer, Milwaukee would be one of the highest-scoring cities in the country,” Carnoy said. But test score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tell a different story. Among black eighth-graders in 13 urban school districts, Milwaukee – where black students make up more than 70 percent of all voucher recipients – ranked last in reading and second-to-last in math

Vouchers and tax giveaways aren’t the answers for improving the achievement of America’s students. In order to reverse the trend of low performance, elected officials will need to critically examine current law, policy, and practice. Most of the current reform efforts enacted through legislation are not supporting the transformation that our public schools need for the 21st century. The time to change is now; our students and our country need a strong public education system!

Should we spend tax dollars to support unaccountable private schools? Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether you agreed with this post or not, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.