Voucher Schools Provide Choice, Except When They Don’t

January 24, 2014

Pro-voucher groups mobilize at this time every year, rallying around what they call National School Choice Week, to once again try to pull the wool over our eyes and convince us that “school choice” is better than quality public education for all. However, time and time again, evidence shows that vouchers do not improve student performance and instead siphon precious taxpayer dollars (estimated at more than $1 billion this year alone) that would otherwise go to public schools.

The dirty little secret of voucher programs is that many of the schools that receive taxpayer dollars through vouchers often discriminate against our most vulnerable students. Not all students get to “choose” to attend or remain in a voucher school. Admissions policies at private and religious schools that receive vouchers can discriminate on the basis of prior academic achievement, income (if the voucher does not cover the full cost of tuition), standardized test scores, interviews with applicants and parents, gender, religion, income, special needs, and behavioral history. Discipline policies at private schools are often not monitored for discriminatory effect, and students can be expelled or otherwise forced to leave programs rather than have their needs accommodated. In addition, not only are private and religious voucher schools not required to hire “highly qualified” teachers, they are also allowed to choose not to employ education professionals for discriminatory reasons such as religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

Private and religious schools do serve a very important purpose for a large number of Americans. My daughter attends a private religious school, which provides a nurturing, inclusive, and diverse environment with the Catholic teachings that I want her to learn. My daughter’s teachers and education professionals provide exceptional instruction for a diverse student population. But, there is evidence that this type of compassionate inclusiveness is not the case at other private and religious schools, where discrimination based on religion, income, disability, and sexual orientation has occurred in admissions and discipline policies.

Accountability is also a big problem with voucher schools, and some take advantage of lax state and federal oversight and misuse tax payer dollars. Just last month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  reported that operators of “a private Milwaukee voucher school that abruptly closed last month — after accepting a total of more than $2.3 million in taxpayer money — now live in a gated community in Florida by the beach.”

Let’s drop the charade this year and call next week by a more accurate name: Private School’s Choice to Discriminate and Even Disappear in the Dead of Night with Taxpayer Money Week. Our children deserve better than this voucher scheme.

By:   |   January 24, 2014

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