January 25, 2024

John Schaaf: Tax dollars are wasted in states with school vouchers

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John Schaaf is an attorney and expert on Kentucky political scandals. His comments on the futility of voucher programs were published in the Florida Pheonix. 

Like salmon swimming home to spawn, lobbyists are again roaming the hallways of the Kentucky State Capitol.

This year, big-dollar lobbyists representing corporate-run private schools and churches are pushing House Bill 208 to change the state’s constitution to allow politicians to throw billions of tax dollars into private and religious schools.

The bad news is, other states are trying this risky experiment and it’s busting their budgets and turning into welfare for wealthy people and churches.

For example, Indiana’s government is forcing every taxpayer to pay for private schools, and pandering Hoosier politicians are diverting $500 million dollars a year into vouchers.  Ninety-nine percent of that voucher money is going to religious schools.

So, if private school lobbyists in Frankfort have their way, every time a Kentuckian buys a toaster, a Big Mac, or a Ford or Toyota, a portion of the sales tax will go to church-based schools, which generally pay NO taxes and want a public handout to shore up dwindling revenue.

Indiana is a tragic example of a state that started a voucher program aimed at low-income families, but now gives vouchers worth about $6,000 per child to families with incomes up to $220,000 per year.  Most voucher recipients were already attending private schools before government swooped in and forced taxpayers to cover those costs.

Likewise, Florida now offers taxpayer-funded $8,000 private school vouchers to every school-aged kid, regardless of family income.

When it was signed into law last year, it was estimated that Florida’s “vouchers for everybody” would cost between $200 and $700 million a year.  However, once this school year started with everybody eligible, the cost exploded, and is now estimated at between $2.8 and $4.2 billion, and about 70 percent of the new recipients were already attending private schools before vouchers.

As a gift (and re-election tool) from Florida politicians, individual voucher recipients can now spend taxpayer money on “instructional materials” such as theme park tickets, 55-inch TVs, video game consoles, skateboards, foosball tables, and surfboards.

Meanwhile, Florida ranks 48th in teacher pay and has about 12,000 teacher and support staff vacancies in its traditional public schools.

Another lobbyist-created disaster is looming in Arizona, where that state’s voucher program is estimated to cost taxpayers over $943 million in the current school year (creating a $319 million deficit for the 2024 fiscal year), and more than 53 percent of all new education spending is going to only eight percent of Arizona students.

In Arizona and other states where taxpayer vouchers are being spread around like manure on a pig farm, there’s minimal accountability or transparency for the use of taxpayer money in private schools.  There’s little or no auditing of private school finances, testing of students, standards for teachers, or parental rights as there are in public schools.

That’s because private school lobbyists pushed through legislation in those states that creates a shocking transfer of taxpayer money to churches and corporations that operate schools without rules — many hastily created, fly-by-night operations that can reject or dismiss any student they don’t want or close without notice, leaving families in the lurch.

“We know that academic instability, bouncing around between schools, school closures, are really bad for children,” said Josh Cowen, a Michigan State University researcher who’s studied the impact of vouchers on students.  “The last four voucher evaluations have shown test score drops from kids who moved from public to private school that are on par with what Hurricane Katrina did to learning rates in New Orleans — and more recently what Covid-19 did to test scores after exams began to resume.”

The Kentucky Constitution protects taxpayers from the high-risk experiment of taxpayer-funded school vouchers. House Bill 208 would change that and allow politicians to gamble with Kentuckians’ hard-earned money.

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