April 3, 2024

Thomas Ultican: Bad Governance with Education Vouchers

Published by

Thomas Ultican lays out how school vouchers so often go hand in hand with bad governance. Reposted with permission

February 26, a Maricopa County Grand Jury indicted six people, including three employees of Arizona’s education department, for forgery, fraud and money laundering. The forty counts charged were related to stealing from the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Attorney General Kris Mayes claimed the fact that three department of education employees were involved indicates a lack of adequate fraud prevention but ESA advocates say new guardrails are not needed.

Before arriving into the 21st century, protecting against malfeasance with tax-generated dollars was considered fundamental to good governance. Arguably, voucher programs violate this basic tenet.

In the 19th century, America led the world to universal free public education. If parents wanted to put their child in a private school for religious or other reasons, it was a choice with no expectation from taxpayers. Today, voucher supporters demand Americans pay for private choices and claim accountability is just a way for liberals to kill vouchers.

In our upside-down politics, liberals are now the accountability hawks and conservatives blindly support spending tax dollars with no accountability.

An article in The 74 quoted Lisa Snell, a senior fellow at Stand Together, brushing off the Arizona indictments with:

“I don’t think there’s any program that can regulate out the possibility of bad actors.”

“In any sector, there are people that are taking advantage of taxpayer money.”

Stand Together was created by Charles Koch in 2003 and supports The 74.

The article continues with a quote by a director of national research at Milton Friedman’s EdChoice:

“Government employees committing fraud is a tale as old as time, and by no means unique to education”.

Arizona’s Governor, Katie Hobbs, proposed tightening accountability for the ESA program. Among eight propositions, she suggested an outside auditor to track private school use of ESA money with fingerprint background checks and minimum education requirements for teachers at these schools.

Mostly Republican ESA supporters held a rally after Hobbs announced her plan. Arizona State Senator Jake Hoffman claimed, “We’re here today to talk about Katie Hobbs’ abhorrent plan to regulate by death by a thousand cuts the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts out of existence”.

Former Arizona Secretary of Education Cathy Hoffman said:

“Ultimately, the problems with this program are bigger than any superintendent. The ESA program does not have — and has never had — enough oversight to ensure tax dollars are being spent appropriately.”

Education Vouchers

There are three main types of education vouchers.

Type 1: Voucher programs originally geared toward low-income families, allowing parents to use public education funding for tuition (in part or in full) at private schools that otherwise would be unaffordable. This includes both religious and non-religious schools. Sixteen states and Washington DC have voucher programs.

Type 2: Tax-Credit Scholarships programs offer full or partial tax credits to individuals or corporations who donate to nonprofit scholarship funds. Eligible families (usually low or middle income), looking for help paying private school tuition, apply for this through the scholarship-granting organization in their state.

Type 3: Education Savings Accounts allow eligible parents who withdraw their child from public school to get a deposit of state funds into a savings account or ESA which they use for educational expenses. It can pay private school tuition and fees but, unlike other school choice programs, may be used for other qualified expenses, like online learning programs or tutoring. In some states, like Arizona, leftover funds can even be applied for higher education.

These programs are all marketed as providing “school choice” with a sales pitch, claiming children are stuck in “failing public schools” and vouchers give them a way out.

Critics of school choice deny this claim and say funds should be reserved for public schools that serve all children. Jessica Levin, deputy litigation director at Education Law Center notes“so-called school choice is really the schools’ choice”. She is pointing at the way private schools can and do discriminate against students they do not want.

Levin goes on to say:

“States with voucher programs usually permit participating private schools to discriminate based on disability, religion, LGBTQ+ status, English proficiency and other factors that public schools could never use to exclude or discipline students.”

Diane Hirshberg, director and professor of education policy at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska—Anchorage shares“The idea that vouchers enhance parent choice does not account for differences in socioeconomic circumstances which may constrain a family’s ability to take advantage of these or the limitations for rural and remote places”.

La Jolla Country Day in San Diego illustrates one of Hirshberg’s points. Even $11,000 vouchers are not pay enough for the $44,000 tuition but would be a nice perk for rich parents, already sending their children there. Arizona’s average ESA vouchers pay parents between $6,000 and $9,000. Low income kids are not going to high end private schools.

The Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn declared,

“It’s one thing to say parents should be able to review curriculum and have more say in what the schools are teaching and what is in the library. It’s a different thing to say parents should actually control the dollars that are spent on behalf of their child’s education and should be able to decide where those dollars are going and where that education is being delivered.”

No one would claim that Ronald Reagan’s former Assistant Secretary of Education, Chester Finn, was not a conservative but his ideology also means support for competent governance.

Director of the National Education Policy Center, Kevin Welner, observed:

“The idea is to be deregulated. For advocates of vouchers, transparency is not a good thing. Protections against discrimination in private schools is not a good thing. Oversight and data reporting and data collection, program evaluations, and accountability back to the government, none of those things are good things if you are coming from the perspective of voucher zealots.”

Voucher Schools are not Performing

Besides the fact that vouchers take money away from public schools attended by more than 90% of America’s students, they are generating horrendous test results.

Joshua Cowen is a professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University. From 2005 to 2010, he was part of an official evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. They followed 2500 students in the program who were carefully matched with 2500 public school students. Cowen reported“After five years, we found very little difference on test scores between the two groups.”

This evaluation seems like the highpoint for voucher school performance. In a Time magazine article Cowen shared:

“Although small, pilot-phase programs showed some promise two decades ago, new evaluations of vouchers in Washington, D.C.IndianaLouisiana, and Ohio show some of the largest test score drops ever seen in the research record—between -0.15 and -0.50 standard deviations of learning loss. That’s on par with what the COVID-19 pandemic did to test scores, and larger than Hurricane Katrina’s impacts on academics in New Orleans.”

DC Voucher Study Graphic (Page xiv)

Another major issue with voucher schools is that 20% to 30% of students leave every year, either giving up their vouchers or are pushed out.

It is not just Professor Cowen who is writing about these dismal results. Chalkbeat’s Mathew Barnum reported in 2019:

“That’s the grim conclusion of the latest study, released Tuesday, looking at Louisiana students who used a voucher to attend a private school. It echoes research out of Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. showing that vouchers reduce students’ math test scores and keep them down for two years or more.”

Joe Waddington, University of Kentucky professor, noted“We’ve started to see persistent negative effects of receiving a voucher on student math achievement.”

So who benefits from vouchers?

There are three groups:

  1. Parents with children already in private schools
  2. Operators of private schools
  3. Religious zealots who believe public schools are evil and must be destroyed

Public dollars should only go to public schools. American taxpayers generously agreed to finance public education. They have never voted to burden themselves with financing private schools. Every time given an opportunity to vote on vouchers, they said NO.

Choice is an ideology that came out of the negative reaction to Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954. It pushes people into separate silos and exacerbates division.

It is a bigoted choice and drives segregation…

Share this:

Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.

Find the original post here:

View original post