While you might have been distracted with other things, H.R. 610 has been introduced in the house. While it is in the early stages, I think it’s fairly indicative of the kind of policies we will see enacted under the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. You can read the full bill here, but here are the main points:
- Repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA)
- Provides block grants to states to distribute, states will need to apply for these grants
- Children enrolled in private schools will be eligible for the funds
- Families who home-school their children will be eligible for funds
- The amount of money available is dependent on the number enrolled in public schools and the number who are enrolled in private schools or being home-schooled
The bill is not clear where the funds will come from, but one can assume that Title 1 funds would be the piggy-bank that gets raided. Otherwise, funds for the block grants would need to be budgeted. The goal as written in the bill is to promote competition and choice for families, though those of us who work within the system can probably imagine many unintended consequences of a voucher program.
For example, if families can apply to receive state funds to home-school their children, what’s to stop a family from keeping their kids home and using those funds to buy a car, furniture, or pay rent. There are many home-school families that put a lot of effort into building an appropriate curriculum for their children, but the vast majority of families aren’t equipped to provide education resources and opportunities. Sitting a child in front of Youtube does not constitute a rich curriculum. As of now, there are no systems in place to hold home-school parents accountable. Private schools also have few requirements to ensure their students are being educated to the same standards that public schools are.
The vouchers may not be enough to cover tuition, fees, and transportation to private schools. The funds may inadvertently work to provide subsidy to wealthy families that are already sending their children to private schools. This will leave disadvantaged kids in poor neighborhoods with even fewer resources going to the public school that may be the only realistic choice they have. This also doesn’t address the fact that private schools can be selective about who is admitted, often having very strict requirements.
We should be vigilant about reviewing any bills that seem to support “choice” but in actuality erode the choices for our own public school kids. Will supporting vouchers ultimately turn our prized public spaces into for-profit private school capitalizing on revenue sources from the federal government? Even if you are a supporter of school choice, the lack of accountability that private schools enjoy should at least be concerning and should be addressed before we open up our public school coffers.