Vouchers: Smoke and Mirrors

classroomSchool vouchers are the hot topic since the 2016 presidential run when then candidate Donald Trump proposed a school voucher system to offer a choice to parents in low-performing school districts.  The basic nuts and bolts of the system calls for the use of 20 billion dollars in federal funding, with the states providing an additional 110 billion dollars in public funds so that parents can place their child in private or religious schools.  There are problems with this system.

First of all the federal dollars that President Trump is calling for are funds for Title One disbursement for at-risk and disabled students.  Congress just passed legislation in 2016 providing new guidelines in the disbursement of the Title One funds and would be reluctant to reopen that fight.  Beyond that, President Trump has not indicated where the 20 billion in educational funds would be coming from.

This leads to the state financial input.  Most states fund about half of the cost of education.  Illinois only funds 26 percent of the cost.  In the last ten years, teachers and their school districts have faced greater challenges to supporting growing numbers of children living in poverty in Illinois, while schools have received less in state funds. Since 2008, the poverty rate has increased on average in Illinois, that  one in five children now lives in poverty.  To make matters worse, during this same time period, the state decreased educational funding by almost a billion dollars.  Finally, during the 2015-16 school year  Illinois managed to achieve to the same funding levels as schools had received in 2008.  Last month, the state passed a law creating a new formula for school funding.   This law I supposed to make funding equal and adequate in all of Illinois’ 850 school districts.  But this goal will take years to achieve. Citizens already pay a sizeable about on money for public education through property taxes.  The current financial stress on our already over-burdened pubic school would be further stretched as citizens would be asked to contribute more money in real estate taxes.

But the worst part of the idea of vouchers is the plain fact that they have not proven to significantly increase academic performance and in some cases have actually had negative effects.  Current research studies by the Choice Scholarship Program on the 14 states now participating states have shown that students using vouchers the same or slightly higher than their public school counterpart in English and some have scored less in the area of mathematics.  Researchers found insignificant overall effects of the voucher program on English performance, except when it came to students with disabilities. These students experienced a negative impact after receiving a voucher and enrolling in a private school. And keep in mind, these pathetic outcomes occurred in voucher programs where private schools are allowed to pick and choose which students they will accept into their schools, unlike a public school where every child is welcomed regardless of ability or economic standing. IN a study done in 2016 by the Government Accountability Office only four voucher programs in the US currently require private schools to accept all voucher students.

Many supporters of the voucher system want to turn the educational system into a competitive place so that schools would be forced to compete for funding, with winners and losers determined by standardized tests scores.  For most students, their achievement on these tests reflects their family income – the higher the poverty, the lower the test score.  This would mean using the children as pawns in a game where the winner receives more money and the district with poorer scores– and therefore, very likely the students with the greatest needs – receives less funding.  This defies logic.  If a school district is lacking academically, then it should receive more funding to help those students receive the education they need to compete in society.  Cutting funding to those districts only helps to further impoverish an already low-income, low-performing community.One recent study estimates that costs associated with vouchers could raise public education costs by 25 percent or more.  Current research concluded that there was a slightly positive or insignificant improvement in schools that compete for voucher programs, while at the same time having negative funding outcomes.  Milwaukee, which has had a voucher program since the 1990s, has had to raise property taxes several times to ensure adequate funding for the city’s schools, and Indiana’s voucher program recently ran a $53 million deficit.

It boils down to is why throw money into a program that does not show significant improvement in academics when instead we can bolster our current public education program that offers education to everyone without the need for application to attend.  Our public schools need the funding to help all students, not to drive them away to a disproven idea that will harm students’ learning and cost us all more money.

For more information: http://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/28/vouchers-not-improve-student-achievement-stanford-researcher-finds/

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