National Momentum for School Vouchers

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Category: Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public
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A couple years ago, I would have said that the growth prospects for school voucher plans were not  good. Proposals to allow students to attend private and religious schools using public money had died in several states, court rulings had not been favorable in places such as Florida where there were strongly worded constitutional bans (“Blaine amendments”) on giving public money to religious schools, research on student achievement in Milwaukee, the nation’s main show case of voucher use, had shown nothing impressive, and  Congress had pulled the plug on a voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The landscape is much different now, thanks primarily to the 2010 elections and the wave of Republican victories.

There’s legislative action on multiple fronts in Wisconsin. Bills to lift the enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s voucher program and to allow suburban schools to accept city of Milwaukee voucher students are moving ahead. A proposal to phase out the family income limits for voucher recipients has brought  controversy and seems likely to morph into raising, but not eliminating, the income standard. And this week, Gov. Scott Walker said he supports expanding the program to include Racine, Beloit, and Green Bay.

It is useful to put the local developments in national context. Here are three examples of what’s going on:

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill last week that will make voucehrs available statewide. By the third year, the number of students who can receive them will be unlimited.  The plan has some differences from the one in Milwaukee, but some strong similarities and it could have a sizeable impact on the educational scene across the state.

Washington, D.C. – As part of the deal struck a few weeks ago to keep the federal government from shutting down, Republicans were adamant about including revival of the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program which provides money for several thousand low income students in the District of Columbia to attend private schools.  House Speaker John Boehner is a leading supporter of the program. President Barack Obama signed the agreement. At a national conference this week of voucher supporters, a prominent point was made of  the fact that that this made Obama the first Democratic president to sign a voucher plan, even if he didn’t actually support it.

US Supreme Court – Particularly in places where the state constitution bars straight voucher payments, an alternative in which donors are given a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for money they give to private schools has been an alternative.  In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that a tax credit is not the same as a payment of government money, even if it reduces government income by the same amount. This could lead to growth of tax credit plans.

Expect more news on the voucher and tax credit front from other states. There still isn’t much strong evidence that student achievement improves because of voucher plans. But the movement is on the march.

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2 Responses to “National Momentum for School Vouchers”

  1. I have been involved with a parish grade school and local high school for years. It is hard for us to pay our bills also. If students are allowed to go to private schools, who pays for special education, who pays for ACLU challenges, who pays for expulsion hearings and other disciplinary hearings? I am really concerned that this is government’s way to wash its and its citizens hands of funding any type of public education. It has already happened in the South where property taxes are so low that any one of means sends their children to private schools….just another way to tax the individual. I feel a country, a state is only as good as its educational system and we need to work together rather than as adversaries of public and private education

  2. I see this “attack public education” movement as a multipurpose movement.

    First, I believe this attack on public education is an attack on women as women make up a large percentage of those employed as teachers at the elementary and secondary level. With outsourcing of jobs overseas, I have witnessed more men entering this noble – and once job secure – profession as a second career move.

    This is an attack women by attacking the job security of many female public school educators with the privitazation of public schools. Therein lies the opportunity to begin the pay disparity and discreptancy that plagues most other professions for women.

    The possibility is high to witness men making more money than women teachers just by the virtue that they are men. This is not an obnoxious conspiracy theory. How many times has this pay discrepancy occured in the private sector since the industrial revolution?

    The most important and severe consequence of the continued attack on public education (as the voucher program is expanded) is the disparity that will continue to exist in education… the haves and haves not schools… only these schools will be PRIVATE!

    Imagine Fortune 100 or 500 companies creating schools with their own entrance requirements… gainfully employed parents might be able to receive tax breaks for enrolling their children in particular schools… parents with meager employment would only be able to enroll their children in the third rate schools with less resources…. not much different than public education now… schools in affluent neighborhoods with a sound tax base have more resources…schools in the “hood” have less resources as their tax base is unsteady (weak).

    Everything is still the same in this new model of U.S. education except it is now PRIVATE public education. So the more things change, the more it is the same old same old.

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