By Brian Washington/Photo courtesy of Lilly G
Here’s a riddle that’s important for all public school activists to consider: When is choice not really a choice?
The answer: When that choice is nothing but a thinly-veiled scheme to rob public schools of badly needed education funding to give to private and religious schools.
That is indeed what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is trying to pass off as “school choice.” Once again, ALEC is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of students, parents, and communities by promoting its distorted view of “choice” in education as part of National School Choice Week.
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For ALEC, school choice is not really about improving student outcomes. It’s about directing public dollars to private outfits that aren’t subject to the same standards of accountability as a public school. Vouchers siphon off huge amounts of money from public schools to subsidize the private education of a small handful of students —leaving the vast majority of our children in public schools that have been depleted of critical funding. ALEC wants us to believe that funding a failed idea like vouchers—which studies show do not improve student performance—is better than investing in a quality public education for all students.
Vouchers schemes cost taxpayers millions of dollars. For example, the voucher program in Indiana this year is expected to cost $81 million—that’s $81 million less for students who attend public schools.
Voucher schemes come in many different forms and hide behind a wide variety names that—when you first hear them—sound like attractive ideas. Education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships, individual tax credits and deductions—but no matter what you call them they all end up diverting taxpayer dollars away from public education.
And unlike public schools, schools that get vouchers—because they are private—can discriminate on the basis of prior academic achievement, standardized test scores, interviews with applicants and parents, gender, religion, special needs, and behavioral history. And if the voucher isn’t enough to cover the cost of tuition, those families who can’t afford to pay the difference will be turned away. Meanwhile, lax rules regarding state and federal oversight of voucher schools continue to raise accountability issues, as pointed out earlier this month by Erin Prangley, with the American Association of University Women.
“Just last month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that operators of ‘a private Milwaukee voucher school that abruptly closed last month—after accepting a total of more than $2.3 million in taxpayer money—now live in a gated community in Florida by the beach,”” said Prangley.
However, none of this matters to ALEC, which is devoted to recruiting right-wing state lawmakers to promote the interests of the rich and powerful. If you know anything about ALEC and its funders, including Charles and David Koch, also known as the “Koch brothers” and two of ALEC’s biggest supporters, you know a key ALEC goal is to dismantle public education—one of the few viable avenues left to working and middle-class families seeking upward mobility. Destroying public education not only restricts opportunities for all but also ensures that wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few—which is exactly what ALEC wants.
It’s time for you to let ALEC know where you stand. Click here to sign our petition and tell ALEC to stop cashing in on our children and the future of this country.