Opposing Vouchers During National School Choice Week

Each year, we draw attention to  National School Choice Week, which is from Jan. 24-30. The purpose of this event is to present facts about school vouchers that are often misrepresented.

While the term “school choice” encompasses many types of choice, including public charter and magnet schools, voucher proponents use this week as an opportunity to push for private school vouchers across the nation. But unlike public choice options, private school vouchers don’t offer meaningful choices to students or parents; rather, these voucher programs take taxpayer dollars away from public schools, which must serve all students, and instead often fund private schools that are either too expensive for students to afford only with a voucher, or that are so lacking in resources as to offer students fewer opportunities than they would receive in public schools.

Voucher programs funnel taxpayer money toward schools that are not obligated to follow the same standards as public schools. The D.C. voucher program, which some members of Congress are trying to reauthorize now, is a good example of this. Since its adoption in 2004, the program has received almost $200 million for students to use to attend private schools. Yet, these private schools are not subject to the same standards for curriculum, nondiscrimination, or civil rights requirements that public schools must meet, including those in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Worse still, some of the schools in the voucher program consist entirely of voucher students, meaning they are propped up entirely by federal money, yet lack any meaningful accountability or oversight.

And, for all of those federal dollars spent, the D.C. voucher program does not boast a good return on investment. Studies of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the Department of Education have shown that vouchers do not improve educational achievement or opportunities for students in the program. In fact, the Department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in reading or math, and it also found that students in the program were actually significantly less likely than students not in the program to attend a school with an ESL program, learning support and special needs program, tutors, counselors, cafeteria, or nurse’s office. These findings are significant.

Last year, the House adopted a bill to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, which will expire this year. While the Senate did not act on the bill in 2015, we expect to see supporters of the program continue to push for its reauthorization. Congress may move to reauthorize the program in 2016 despite continuing opposition from the individuals who represent D.C.: Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and a majority of the D.C. City Council.

Looking ahead, we will continue to see vouchers pushed not just in Congress but in the states. Last year, seven states passed voucher bills that either created or expanded existing programs.  We expect to battle many similar efforts this year.

School Choice Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the reasons why private school vouchers are harmful. Take the time to let your legislators know that you don’t support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs.