April 12, 2024

Damaris Allen and Beth Lewis: The devastating impact vouchers have had on Arizona, Florida local public schools

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Damaris Allen is a parent of public school children in Florida. Beth Lewis a parent of public school children in Arizona. Together, they penned an op-ed warning the parents of New Hampshire in the Concord Monitor.

As parents from Florida and Arizona, we have seen the devastating impact of publicly funded school vouchers and want to offer a gloomy cautionary tale so that you can understand why legislative proposals to expand voucher programs in New Hampshire would be a terrible idea.

Arizona and Florida have the dubious distinction of being considered “#1 in school choice” by the dark money special interests that have spent millions to push vouchers in our states. This means our public schools are underfunded in service of private school vouchers. Rural students and low-income families have fewer quality choices, while richer suburban families use vouchers as a coupon for the private education they were already paying for. This is tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent with no accountability, no transparency and no return on investment.

Arizona is now reeling from the impacts of universal vouchers, which are siphoning nearly $1 billion out of our local public schools this year. School districts are forced to make horrific decisions between shutting down schools, laying off hundreds of teachers, slashing bus routes or firing counselors or social workers. Arizona class sizes are growing exponentially, while our buildings and buses fall into disrepair. Just this past month, our attorney general announced major cases of fraud, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from the voucher program.

Florida spends over $4 billion of taxpayer money annually on private schools. More than 65 percent are not accredited, requiring parents to check with their students’ prospective colleges to ensure their diplomas will even be accepted. In Florida, homeschool families who receive vouchers are free to purchase large-screen TVs, paddleboards, vacations and other extravagant items, while public schools don’t have basic school supplies, such as paper and pencils. To reduce costs, our traditional public schools have class sizes bursting at the seams, fewer enrichment programs and limited access to accelerated courses.

This is happening in Florida and Arizona, and it’s no different in New Hampshire. Voucher lobbyists are solely interested in forcing through publicly funded vouchers to eventually dismantle the public school system and privatize all schools. They like to start small, with targeted programs for low-income students, but once the voucher door has opened, it’s almost impossible to close, and millions will be spent to inch it ever wider each year. That’s what’s happening in New Hampshire now, with several bills to expand vouchers. The New Hampshire voucher law specifically protects the right of schools to reject students who do not fit their mission but offers no protection to students against discrimination, even though taxpayer money is being used to pay for the vouchers.

Read the full op-ed here. 


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