The issue of school vouchers has seemed dead—or at least asleep—for the past several years. But this vampire is waking up! U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos has been a major advocate for the expansion of vouchers.
Taxpayer-funded school voucher programs—some of them quite small—operate in 13 states (AZ, FL, GA, IN, LA, ME, MS, NC, OH, OK, UT, VT and WI) and the District of Columbia. But they may not remain small. A few years ago, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill to divert $24 billion—more than 40 percent of current federal spending on K-12 public schools—and allow states to use the money for vouchers and charter schools. So let’s review the facts:
No credible study has demonstrated that vouchers improve student performance.
The official study of Cleveland’s voucher program found no difference in achievement for voucher students compared to students in the public schools. By fifth grade, public school students did as well as the voucher students. Voucher students were also less likely to be African American and low-income. A 2011 study of the Milwaukee voucher program showed that voucher students did not perform better in state wide testing. While a controversial study of privately-funded vouchers in New York City, Dayton, Ohio and the District of Columbia claimed a gain in test scores by African American students, one of the companies hired to gather the research publicly rebutted that conclusion and a thorough reanalysis of the data confirmed that the claims were insupportable—that vouchers had no statistically significant impact on student achievement.
Private schools that accept vouchers are not held accountable for the quality of instruction.
Voucher proposals rarely demand accountability for the quality of education students receive and, in fact, most private schools would not participate in a voucher program if it required them to make changes in admissions, student testing, curriculum, or religious training. Private schools object to testing mandates which leaves states and legislators without any way to compare the effects of private and public school programs. Furthermore, as Americans United for Separation of Church and State points out, even when states have attempted to mandate accountability in voucher programs, private schools have not done what was required of them.
Vouchers violate the principle of separation of church and state.
Over 80 percent of students attending private schools are enrolled in religious institutions. Most of these religious schools integrate religion throughout their curriculum and often require all students to receive religious instruction and attend religious services. There is simply no way to stop vouchers from subsidizing religious activities and education.
In fact, nearly every state constitution (all but LA, ME and NC) limits government support of religious institutions and 36 state constitutions expressly prohibit the diversion of public funds to religious schools. Fifteen states also require a uniform system of public education—interpreted by Florida’s Supreme Court to prohibit vouchers. Accordingly, in most states, vouchers are, or may be held, unconstitutional.
Americans overwhelmingly oppose school vouchers.
The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found that only 31 percent of Americans favor the diversion of public funds for private school tuition. Since 1972, all attempts to create state voucher programs by referendum have failed. Most recently in November 2016, voters in Atlantic City, NJ voted down a voucher proposal. In 2000, voters in California and Michigan rejected vouchers by two-to-one margins. Year after year, virtually all polls show that voters oppose school vouchers—they want tax dollars to support public schools.