Steven Singer: On Discriminatory School Vouchers, Democrats Divide the Party to Appear Unified!?
Steven Singer, a Pennsylvania teacher, questions the Democratic party’s decision to avoid criticizing Governor Josh Shapiro for his support of school vouchers. Reposted with permission.
Most Democrats oppose school vouchers.
In fact, the national party officially opposes them as part of its stated platform.
However, the national party warned Pennsylvania State Democrats against adopting a formal resolution opposing vouchers because the Democratic Governor, Josh Shapiro, supports them.
The national party was afraid of appearing divided going into the 2024 election.
But it IS divided!
Stopping this resolution is what divided it.
If the Democrats wanted to actually be unified, they should have pushed for Shapiro to get on the same page as the rest of them. The national party’s position is X. He is pushing for Y.
The fact is Shapiro already broke with the party earlier this year by working with Republican senators to craft a $100 million school voucher program. However, after a tidal wave of Democratic push back, he eventually rejoined the group and vetoed that same program.
So – despite Shapiro’s grumblings – Democrats actually were united again against vouchers before the national party got involved.
The national Dems could have put pressure on the Governor to keep with the group. Instead they asked the majority of Democratic lawmakers to just hush until Donald Trump was defeated and Sen. Bob Casey was re-elected.
That’s not unity. It’s deception.
They’re cynically hoping no one reads the news and folks just button their lips about the continuing disagreement over this wasteful and discriminatory policy that they have allowed to fester.
Several Democratic committee members introduced the anti-voucher resolution at the party’s September meeting in order to both chastise the Governor and clarify the party’s continued commitment to public schools. They agreed to table it so the authors of the resolution could work with committee staff to remove direct criticisms of Shapiro.
However, the committee members who brought this forward said they’d continue to push for the state Democratic Party to affirm an explicit anti-vouchers stance at all future state committee meetings – even those during the Presidential election year. They did not consider this controversial because they were merely asking the state party to align its stance with the national party’s official platform.
Unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have trouble supporting public schools while perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of academic struggle.
The overwhelming majority of children in the state (and throughout the country) are public school students, but legislators will not adequately fund their schools.
Instead they waste $470 million every year on private and religious schools.
Lawmakers are Constitutionally required to fund public schools – not private and parochial schools – yet Democrat and Republican legislators BOTH support throwing your tax dollars away on something that isn’t their responsibility or yours.
The problem is there are at least two ways of doing this.
There are hush hush programs called Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs – school vouchers in everything but name.
Then there’s the idea first floated by Republican Gov. Tom Ridge in 1995 that every student should get a school voucher that could be used at a private or parochial school.
The low key programs are tax-credit scholarships that allow donors to pay less in taxes if they fund tuition for low income students at private schools. The full throated program could go to students regardless of parental income.
The former program already exists and is supported by nearly all Republicans and some Democrats. The later program is supported by nearly all Republicans and very few Democrats. It is the later which actually goes by the name of school vouchers.
So as nice as it would be to have all Democrats on the same page being against school vouchers, that would really just mean they were against anyone above the poverty line getting a voucher. Many of them would still be fine with poor kids getting subsidized to go to private and parochial schools.
In fact, just this year the General Assembly approved a 40% increase, or $150 million, to the state’s existing tax-credit scholarship programs as part of an expansive budget deal.
Republicans, angered by Shapiro’s veto of the voucher program he helped create, refused to go along with Democrats and add a single penny in funding to the Commonwealth’s impoverished public school system – Supreme Court ruling be damned!
PA lawmakers are determined to waste taxpayer dollars on private and parochial schools while starving the public school system they are required to support.
School vouchers are not a new idea. They’ve been tried and failed over and over again.
If we look at the facts, using a school voucher to go from a public school to a private one actually hurts kids academically.
Large-scale independent studies in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington, D.C., show that students who used vouchers were as negatively impacted as if they had experienced a natural disaster. Their standardized test scores went down as much or more than students during the Covid-19 pandemic or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This should come as no surprise. When we give children school vouchers, we’re removing their support systems already in place.
They lose the friends, teachers, and communities where they grew up. It’s like yanking a sapling from out of the ground and transplanting it to another climate with another type of soil which may not be suited to it at all.
Moreover, vouchers have nothing to do with helping kids escape struggling public schools.
School vouchers overwhelmingly go to kids who already attend private or parochial schools.
In the states that have released their data, more than three quarters of families who apply for vouchers for their children already send their kids to private schools. That’s 75% of voucher students in Wisconsin, 80% in Arizona, and 89% in New Hampshire. So these kids didn’t need our tax dollars in the first place. We’re just paying for services they’re already receiving.
Moreover, the very idea is absurd. If the school where the student is enrolled is struggling, why wouldn’t you simply invest in that school to make it better and fix the underlying problem? Why disrupt children’s educations by moving them to another school in another system that is entirely unproven, itself?
Vouchers are about exclusion – who gets to attend these PRIVATE schools – and indoctrination – what nonsense they can teach that public schools cannot.
Private schools can and do discriminate against children based on religion, race, gender, sexuality, special needs – you name it – even if those schools take public money.
For example, in Florida, Grace Christian School, a private institution that refuses to enroll LGBTQ kids has received $1.6 million so far in taxpayer funding. In Indiana, more than $16 million has gone to schools banning LGBTQ kids—or even kids with LGBTQ parents! That’s roughly 1 out of every 10 private schools in the state with just this one discriminatory enrollment.
Meanwhile thousands of parochial schools that receive public funding use textbooks provided by The American Christian Education (ACE) group. This includes the A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks. A Beka publishers, in particular, reported that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase their textbooks.
In their pages you’ll find glowing descriptions of the Ku Klux Klan, how the massacre of Native Americans saved many souls, African slaves had really good lives, homosexuals are no better than rapists and child molesters, and progressive attempts at equal rights such as Brown vs. Board of Education were illegal and misguided. You know – all the greatest Trump/MAGA hits!
Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a curriculum worthy of taxpayer dollars. I think if you’re going to take public money, you should have to accept all of the public, and you shouldn’t be allowed to teach counterfactual claims and prejudice as if they were fact.
That’s why Democrats should unequivocally oppose school vouchers of all types!
If lawmakers were making decisions based on facts instead of which policies will get them the most donations from wealthy special interests, this would be a no brainer.
As usual it is campaign contributions that are dividing the party – not popular policy.
State Democrats should pass an anti-voucher resolution today!