Vouchers offer neither reform nor choice

 

Two of the most abused words in the political debate over education are “reform” and “choice.” School privatization advocates – and some members of the news media — frequently apply these terms to vouchers, which offer neither “reform” nor “choice.”

Here’s why.

The dominant word in dictionary definitions of “reform” is “improve” or some version of the word. As a verb, reform is defined as an action “to put or change into an improved form or condition,” or to “make changes in something, typically a social, political or economic institution or practice, in order to improve it.”

The dominant synonym for the noun form of reform is “improvement.”

Vouchers by any name — including education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships – will not improve public education in Texas. You don’t improve under-funded public schools by taking tax dollars from them so a select group of parents can spend that public money on their kids’ private school tuition or use it to buy new computers if they home-school their children – all without any accountability to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood public schools where the vast majority of children will continue to be educated will have less resources with which to do their jobs. Statewide, those schools stand to lose as much as $2 billion a year if Senate Bill 3, the voucher proposal that will be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, becomes law, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Only a deliberate political misuse of the word would call that an “improvement.”

Moreover, voucher-paid educations in private schools do not guarantee improved academic results for participants. Recent studies have documented significant declines in academic achievement among voucher students in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana. Earlier studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C, found little or no difference in outcomes between voucher and public school students.

The myth that vouchers offer parents a “choice” also ignores a few facts.

One, private schools establish and enforce their own admission standards and choose their students accordingly. That means the schools, not the parents or the students, make the final choices on which students are admitted, and vouchers will not change that practice.

Public schools accept all students, including those with limited English proficiency, disabilities and other special needs. Many private schools do not. And public schools offer a wider array of course choices for students than most private schools.

Finally, the best private schools charge much higher tuition than the proposed voucher payments being discussed by legislative advocates in Texas. Unlike public schools, many private schools don’t provide transportation for students either and don’t have to provide books or meal service. That means the real cost of attending a private school can be much higher than the cost of tuition alone, pricing most students from low and middle-income families out of the best private schools.

The real financial benefit would go to wealthier families, many of whom already can afford private schools without taxpayer help. This isn’t real choice, and it isn’t reform either.

 

 

 

 

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