by Félix Pérez
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Voucher advocates like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos like to dress up their proposal in lofty-sounding words such as “freedom” and “choice.” And just as a salesman whose product is perceived negatively, voucher proponents have sought to repackage their idea, sometimes as education saving accounts, education tax credits, personalized learning accounts or opportunity scholarships.
But whatever form they take or name they use, vouchers have the same results.
- They take scarce funding from public schools and divert them to programs with little to no accountability, leading to the loss of millions of dollars to private school operators who fraudulently misrepresented enrollment data, failed to provide safe and academically appropriate learning environments, and otherwise gamed the system for personal profit.
- They do not improve student achievement; evaluations of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., have all found no statistically signicant differences in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students, and recent evaluations of programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana revealed that voucher students scored lower than their peers attending public school.
- Vouchers undermine student civil rights, including the rights of students with disabilities. Private school students forfeit due process and other rights guaranteed in public schools. Private schools can and do discriminate by denying admission based on religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English language proficiency and disability. Private schools that enroll students with disabilities may decline to provide the services or accommodations guaranteed to such students in public schools (or charge parents extra for them), and may segregate children with special needs from other children. Private schools may also suspend or expel students without due process.
DeVos has pushed and funded campaigns for vouchers for decades, most notably in her home state of Michigan. Her missionary zeal and generous donations when she was chairwoman of the American Federation for Children — a position she held immediately before her confirmation as education secretary — led her to support voucher campaigns in other states as well.
DeVos’s dogged pursuit of public school funding for voucher schools has like-minded allies at the state level, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is running for re-election in November.
Rauner, dubbed the “worst Republican governor in America” by a conservative magazine, vetoed another education funding bill in January, demanding that more private schools be given access to public money in the form of education tax credits, or vouchers. The first-term incumbent pushed the state into a two-year budget impasse, during which more than $1 billion was not paid out to school districts. Public colleges and universities statewide announced layoffs, social service agencies shut down, construction projects stalled, and businesses were owed billions for goods and services provided to the state.
Rauner is a longtime critic of public schools. Before becoming governor, Rauner told other wealthy activists in a 2011 email that half of Chicago teachers “are virtually illiterate” with a “hostile union” and half the principals are “incompetent.”