by Brian Washington/Photo courtesy of Texas State Teachers Association
A wide spectrum of pro-public education supporters are standing up for students and against plans to siphon away millions of dollars from public schools to hand over to private schools through vouchers and tuition tax credits.
In Indiana, hundreds turned out at the State Capitol Tuesday, March 20, as part of the Save Our Schools rally to demand that Governor Mike Pence and the state legislature invest in our public schools. Lawmakers are trying to expand the state’s voucher program — which is already the largest in the country and drains dwindling money from public school budgets — to include up to 9,000 students, or about 5,000 more than last year. Also, leaders in the House have a bill to expand the program by another 6,000 students — even though a new study shows that only 28 percent of Hoosier residents support the expansion and 31 percent oppose it.
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A similar rally was recently held in Texas, where legislators there have proposed a $10 billion cut to public education funding and the chair of the Senate Education Committee has just unleashed a flurry of bills — including a voucher proposal that, if approved, will surely divert resources from programs for public school students.
“Vouchers are not scholarships. They are vouchers,” said Diane Ravitch, a nationally recognized education policy analyst, blogger, and former voucher supporter, who earlier this month testified before state lawmakers in Alaska against a proposal to expand vouchers in the state. “They are a way to use public money to pay for religious and private education. They take money away from public schools and send the money to religious and private schools.”
School board members, such as Indya Kincannon, a member of the Knox County Board of Education in Tennessee, are also speaking up. Kincannon penned an op-ed for a local paper against a voucher bill.
Vouchers give choice to private schools, not families. Vouchers are a taxpayer subsidy to private schools, with minimal accountability or transparency, said Kincannon.
Even in Wisconsin, where the legislature helped Governor Scott Walker ram through legislation that gutted public education funding and silenced the voices of workers and their families, legislative leaders, such as Senate President Mike Ellis, are starting to question the governor’s proposal to expand vouchers.
“There’s a huge movement of public tax dollars away from the public school and into the private school setting,” Ellis told a local radio station. “Under current law, any time a student leaves, $6,442 follows the student out of that public school. If 100 kids leave the school, times $6,000, that’s going to leave a huge financial hole.”
Experts predict that spending millions of dollars to subsidize the private education of a few students will ultimately force local communities to raise taxes to maintain programs and class sizes. Nevertheless, voucher advocates appear intent on implementing this unproven, costly legislation. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley just signed a voucher bill into law last week.
Educators know vouchers are not the answer and that lawmakers need to focus and invest in those policies and reforms that have proven effective, such as smaller class sizes that allow for more individualized attention, more advanced math and science courses, more high quality teacher training, and improved access to technology for students. Vouchers will not help ensure that all students have access to quality public schools.
“I believe they (vouchers) will undermine and destroy public education,” said Ravitch. “I believe, based on my many years of study, that public education is one of the essential institutions of a democratic society — certainly of this very diverse democratic society. And we must not sacrifice it.”
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