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It’s All About Education: School Choice - Vouchers and Tax-Credit Scholarships Don’t Pay

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

 

Lauri Lee

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the many options parents have when choosing a school for their child. While I absolutely support parents’ rights to educate themselves about their options and to choose a school that matches their family’s philosophical and educational needs, I do not support school vouchers or similar programs. 

School voucher systems give parents subsidies that can be directed towards the school of their choice, whether that school is a public, parochial, or independent school; in some jurisdictions, the subsidy can even be applied towards homeschooling.  Currently, thirteen states and the District of Columbia have some sort of voucher program, although eligibility varies by state. 

Fourteen states, including Rhode Island, offer tax-credit scholarships. Through these programs, businesses (and in some cases, individuals) donate to a scholarship granting organization (SGO), and in return they receive a tax credit. Eligible (low-income) families may then apply for a scholarship to be used towards tuition at a private or parochial school. There is generally a cap on the tax credit and the number of students participating in the program. 

Proponents of voucher programs believe that when Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it should include taxpayer-funded scholarships that parents can use to send their children to the school of their choice.  On the surface, it sounds like a good idea; why wouldn’t we want parents to be able to direct their tax dollars to the school that educates their children? But there are several good reasons why vouchers and tax credits will not strengthen our education system. 

There is no evidence that students who receive vouchers perform any better in school. A report released in 2011 found that, over the course of a decade, vouchers had no positive effect on student academic achievement (based on the results of reading and math assessments). In other words, students receiving vouchers performed at about the same level as their public school peers who stayed in their assigned schools. 

Voucher programs divert much-needed funding away from public schools, particularly schools serving low-income populations. The money directed towards voucher programs generally is siphoned away from Title I, a program which allocates funds to schools based on economic need. Schools with the most need will likely lose the most funding; and the students who are left in those schools will have even fewer resources than they already do. 

Both vouchers and tax-credit scholarships weaken our public school system. According to the Southern Education Foundation, over the last year, over $1 billion in tax funding went to private organizations and private schools through these programs. That’s $1 billion that has come directly out of our public school budget, to provide additional teachers, support staff (such as college counselors), arts programs, and materials and supplies. At the same time that our low-income student population is growing, our public schools are losing the funding they need to adequately serve their students. 

Vouchers and tax-credit scholarships will not have any effect on the achievement gap. While private schools can choose to accept or deny admission to student applicants, public schools serve all of the students who enroll, regardless of their academic ability, language skills, or special needs.  Diverting funds that are desperately needed by public schools that serve an increasingly diverse student body will not help us close the achievement gap; it will only hinder their ability to help their students attain success. 

Many states will continue to offer these programs promoting school choice, as their advocates argue that allowing parents to choose alternative schools for their children will build competition and force underperforming public schools to either improve or close. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this outcome. For this reason, our federal government should not encourage voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs, and they should not be written into the reauthorization of the ESEA. 

A strong public school system benefits all of us, regardless of whether we have children attending the public schools – and our taxes should support those schools. Like charter schools, vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs are an attempt to appease voting and taxpaying parents by offering them alternatives. Instead, we should be using this funding to strengthen all of our public schools.  

As author John Green writes, “We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education. So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school; it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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