Jeff Bryant: The Bipartisan Rejection of School Choice
Jeff Bryant writing in The Progressive explains how a year that choice fans thought would be a big win ended up dashing their hopes.
In Oklahoma, a bill to create a voucher-like program that would have given parents publicly funded “savings” accounts to help pay for private school tuition or other education expenses drew opposition from some Republicans. They were concerned that money going to homeschoolers would be diverted from public schools in rural communities—where public schools might be the only real choice families have.
In Idaho, a bill to create “education savings accounts” died in committee after GOP lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of giving parents public funds to spend on private schools and other education providers.
A similar bill in Alabama was fobbed off to a study commission after lawmakers, including Republicans, objected to the lack of accountability in how private schools would spend voucher funds. Concerns were also raised about the potential negative impacts on public school budgets in rural communities.
In Georgia, a bill to create a straight-up voucher program sparked opposition from critics who noted the voucher money would exceed what the state currently spends, per pupil, in public schools. Then Republican lawmakers became enraged by mailers sent by the American Federation for Children, a voucher advocacy group founded by DeVos. The letters pressed legislators to quickly pass the bill by accusing them of caving in to the “radical left” (i.e., President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams).
The bill died in the Georgia Senate in a bipartisan vote.
In Utah, Republican legislators introduced a bill to fund a voucher program despite voters having rejected such a program in a statewide referendum fourteen years ago. The state’s Republican governor, Spencer Cox, pledged to veto the bill, which then failed with bipartisan opposition in the state house of representatives.
In Iowa, where the state’s Republican governor has prioritized passing a voucher program, a bill passed the state senate but was omitted in the house. Again, some Republicans opposed the measure due to lack of accountability in the private sector and potential negative impact on rural public schools. The fate of the voucher program is now in the hands of a bicameral committee.
In Nebraska, for the second year in a row, state lawmakers rejected a voucher program that is opposed by both conservatives and liberals. In Tennessee, Republicans joined with Democrats to block an attempt to resuscitate a voucher-like program, which was overturned by the state’s supreme court.
“The fact that private school voucher bills fail even in states where Republicans have full control shows that these schemes are not nearly as popular as Betsy DeVos and others say they are,” says Jessica Levin, the director of Public Funds for Public Schools, a national campaign that uses litigation, advocacy, and research to oppose vouchers and other forms of school privatization.